Sunday, January 17, 2016

Review: In the Shadow of Women

Image courtesy of Distrib Films.
With his latest, "In the Shadow of Women," director Philippe Garrel aims to keep the spirit of the French New Wave alive. The picture, which is a brief 73 minutes, is the type of amour fou story that you might have expected to see in early works by Eric Rohmer or Francois Truffaut.

And while the movie is a little slight, possibly due to its uncomplicated story and short running time, it contains some solid performances and lovely black and white photography. But it's more of a minor film in Garrel's oeuvre, his best film to date being 2005's "Regular Lovers," a hypnotic tale set against a Paris '68 backdrop.

In "Shadow," a married couple - Manon and Pierre (Clotilde Courau and Stanislas Merhar) - struggles to keep their relationship alive after both of them take part in affairs, she with a doting man and he with a slightly obsessive younger woman named Elisabeth (Lena Paugam) who wants to know all about his wife.

Manon wants attention from her husband, who is a documentary filmmaker shooting a picture about a French Resistance fighter who is alleged to have gone up against the Nazis, and when he doesn't give it to her, she takes up her affair with her nameless suitor.

And Pierre is a chauvinist who not only cheats on his wife, but doesn't believe Elisabeth when she tells him that his wife is also cheating on him after having spotted Manon and her lover at a cafe. Pierre believes that his wife is too in love with him to ever consider another man and he begins to take out his anguish at the thought on Elisabeth.

While "Regular Lovers" and some of Garrel's other films have a substantial amount going on at any time, "In the Shadow of Women" is narratively simplistic. It's short on story, but does a decent amount of character building. Its style would give you the impression of watching a movie made 50 years ago if it weren't for the modern technology and clothing.

So, while the picture is not among Garrel's best, the film is a decent enough throwback to the New Wave movies of the 1960s. I'm not sure it offers up any new ideas on marriage, infidelity or love, but it handles its material well enough.

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