“Those Who Make Revolutions Half-Way Do Nothing But Dig a Grave”
At a single 11 a.m. screening in 2005, the New York Film Festival presented Philippe Garrel’s monumental 178-minute hoard of period-specific emotional memory, Regular Lovers; it's miracle enough that the movie was made—but now it's getting its American distribution? I don’t want to call Garrel’s movie Great (though, oh, it is)—that’s one of those hefty words that tends to crush dialogue with the finality of its import, a disservice to a film that begs to be thought on, mixed-up with, bored or smothered by, but not put on a shelf labeled “Masterpiece” to gather dust and dispassionate appreciation. I love and respect this movie far too much for deadening hyperbole—such a mass of celluloid deserves its fair chance to engage a living audience before our sect of art-house obscurists ceremonially put it in mothballs.
Garrel’s new film, like much of his work, has the stillborn French Revolution of May 1968 at its center, though the Events exist literally rather than symbolically here. Few critics will be equal to the challenge of discussing Regular Lovers without reference to Bernardo Bertolucci’s ‘68-set 2004 film The Dreamers, and Garrel doesn’t ask us to; the connection is explicitly urged in a scene where actress Clotilde Hesme, discussing the Italian director’s Before the Revolution, turns to the camera to deliver a measured enunciation of the auteur’s name: “Ber-to-lucci.”
I can’t figure if Garrel’s movie is intended as an upbraiding counterpoint or staid intellectual sister film to The Dreamers—or even as some kind of disjointed sequel. It shares a leading man with Bertolucci’s insouciant work, Philippe’s son Louis, and as Garrel the younger steps off the streets of an uprisen Paris in an early scene, he tells friends, “Some guy gave me a molotov and all I had to do was throw it”—the same dilemma which ends Bertolucci’s film. But though Regular Lovers spends more time around the melee than The Dreamers did, it conversely seems the less invested film—Bertolucci’s complicitly adolescent approach made a total coup (or anything!) seem possible; Garrel, filming at the sidelines, seems incapable of participating in the party for more than a few moments, burdened by full knowledge of the hangover ahead.
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