Philippe Garrel will introduce this evening’s presentation of a new restoration of his 1979 film L’Enfant secret, starring the late Anne Wiazemsky (image above), and then take part in Q&As later tonight and again tomorrow (with his daughter Esther Garrel) following screenings of Lover for a Day. The former film is part of the New York Film Festival’s Revivals program, while the latter is, of course, the new one. We’ve got a second entry on Lover (after its premiere in Cannes) right here.
The New Yorker’s Richard Brody calls L’Enfant secret “a fierce, passionate, tender, painful romance, based in part on Garrel’s own relationship with the singer Nico; it’s also an ultra-low-budget independent film that aspires to—and often reaches—the imagistic grandeur of the silent cinema, and Wiazemsky’s blend of vulnerability and strength, reminiscent at times of Lillian Gish’s work in the nineteen-teens and twenties, is part of that achievement.” For more on L’Enfant secret, see Critics Round Up.
Starting Thursday, and on through October 26, the Metrograph presents Philippe Garrel: Part 1, and Garrel will be there, too, introducing Liberté, la nuit (1983) on Thursday and J’entends plus la guitare (1991) on Friday and taking part in Q&As both evenings. “Maurice Garrel was central to his son’s early life as a filmmaker, and Liberté, la nuit is as much his film as it is Philippe’s,” writes Jon Auman at Screen Slate. “The younger Garrel was only 36 when he made Liberté, and it is hard to imagine him arriving at such an honest and weary appraisal of life without having first read in his father’s face. That reciprocity—between actor and director, father and son—makes Liberté one of both Philippe and Maurice’s best films.”
In his overview of the retrospective for 4Columns, Nicholas Elliott writes that J’entends plus la guitare, “Garrel’s first film after Nico’s untimely death and the best entry point to his work, eschews any reference to the couple’s film collaborations to tell a modest but arresting love story, from a first encounter in Positano to a visit to Nico’s grave in Berlin. This rare film in color by a master of richly textured black and white perfects Garrel’s art of the ellipsis: there is an invigorating abruptness in the way years go by unannounced between two shots, then something marvelously gentle in the camera dwelling on the dawn of emotion on a man’s face.”
And the Metrograph has posted a piece that Elliott’s translated by Philippe Azoury: “In the immediate wake of May ’68, Garrel shot La Concentration and Le Révélateur. Watching them today is chilling. All the dead ends of the seventies are prophesied: self-destruction, apathy, alienation, the memory of the concentration camps, and insanity before the unflinching wall of repression. How could a twenty-year-old filmmaker have been so lucid? . . . Les Baisers de secours  opened a new, more romantic period. . . . Garrel’s cinema is as haunted as can be, yet it invites the viewer to experience an uncommon level of presence.”
Adrian Martin on L’Enfant secret
Updates, 10/12: “Each new film seems part of a chain, in which characters talk endlessly about love even as they fall in and out of it and suffer and survive its disillusionments,” writes Tony Pipolo for Artforum. “In the brooding, affecting J’entends plus la guitar, a man remarks that love was invented by troubadours, exists only in books, and that ‘we may be the last generation to talk about it.’ A woman, jeering at its impermanency says, so ‘love warms us, lights us, feeds us, and gets us high?’ as her mate responds, ‘Exactly!—the most precise definition I’ve ever heard.’ . . . [T]he obsession is earnest and, thanks to the appeal and extraordinary credibility of Garrel’s actors—sometimes a family member—often deeply affecting. Not as frequently remarked upon is the seemingly invisible cinematic style that embodies this obsession. Beyond sentimentality and narrative efficiency, it suggests a philosophy of the human condition.”
“An admirer of Murnau and von Stroheim, Garrel infuses his fiercely intimate, artisanal work with the expressivity of early silent cinema,” writes Ela Bittencourt for the Village Voice. “At times, he turns off sound entirely. Not knowing what is being said heightens the spectators’ anxiety and contributes to the general sense of ambivalence that pervades Garrel films, forcing us to hang on to the actors’ fleeting facial expressions and gestures. In this way, Garrel’s oeuvre is about the body language of love, the choreography of the myriad physical manifestations of the joy but mainly the pain it inflicts.”
Update, 10/17: “Mr. Garrel’s work has a unique aesthetic that today’s American cinephiles seem to be hungry for,” writes Glenn Kenny in the New York Times. “One reason Mr. Garrel’s earlier work has been hard to see in this country is that his early career was more or less as an underground filmmaker—one of the inspirations he cited during a recent New York appearance is Andy Warhol, whom he met through Nico. L’Enfant Secret forms a kind of bridge between his more abstract pictures and the narratives of the 80s and beyond . . . The loose ends, the ragged edges, the awkward cuts: Here they’re like the angry low-fi communication of a postpunk song, desperate in its constricted ability to evoke the ineffable.”
Updates, 10/22: “Like any transitional work,” writes Eric Barroso at Screen Slate, “L’Enfant secret exists in two realms, namely what Adrian Martin terms Garrel’s ‘portrait films’ (I’d imagine this encompasses the silent films with Nico, like Les hautes solitudes and Le Berceau de Cristal) and the more directly personal narrative mode that was to come, where almost every scenario in his films were poetic inflections of Garrel’s life.”
More from John DeFore in the Hollywood Reporter: “Borrowing ‘models’ from the Bresson films The Devil, Probably and Au Hazard Balthazar, Garrel ensures his two lovers won’t be too demonstrative of the emotions he loosely attributes to them. After the first eight or nine minutes, which are devoid of dialogue, ambient noise or Foley effects, we’re just happy to find them speaking to each other.”
Update, 10/26: “The events surrounding May ‘68 are often mentioned as a pivotal moment in Garrel’s filmmaking, the phantom lurking behind every frame,” writes Craig Hubert for Hyperallergic. “But how it has been manifested is more complex than a simple transference of influence. As can be seen through the work included in Metrograph’s current retrospective . . . , the revolutionary hope quickly turned to disenchantment, and the political foundation of his work was buried under hallucinatory metaphor and, later, a turn toward poetic autobiography that continues in slightly altered form today.”
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