Relationships get Complicated in Philippe Garrel’s Latest Drama

DIRECTED BY PHILIPPE GARREL/2018 (U.S. Theatrical Release)

Philippe Garrel, the longtime filmmaker of probing relationship films, is quite obviously and admittedly influenced by, among likely others, his near-contemporary Jean-Luc Godard. This would be the Godard of the early years, when he couldn’t let a film go by without holing up his leading male and female in a bedroom, and then let strife take over for half an hour. Years later, (as in, last year) Harrell’s son Louis Garrel went on to play Godard in Michel Hazanavicius’ divider of people, Redoubtable, a sort of biopic that’s been rejected by as many who give it pass.

Perhaps to make good on what some consider Redoubtable being a bridge too far, the senior Garrel cast his daughter, Esther Garrel, as the lead in the far more critically accepted Lover of a Day. A veritable “three-hander”, Garrel’s latest is an intimate (but not too intimate) portrait of what happens when a university professor, his secret student girlfriend, and his college aged daughter share an apartment. Hint: it’s not exactly a situation comedy.

These things can and do happen, and we make the best of it. That seems to be the point. Or a point.

Jeanne, played by Esther Garrel, is an emotional wreck after coming off of a bad break up. She retreats to the apartment of her father, Giles (Éric Caravaca) for consolation only to discover a young woman, Ariane, (Louise Chevillotte) living with him. Ariane, recognizing female disaster when she sees it, quickly becomes his confidant and shoulder to cry on. The film and the characters quickly nullify the whole issue of an older instructor dating one of his students when Ariane explains that she pursued him for over an entire semester before he finally cracked.  C’est la vie.

Louise Chevillotte and Esther Garrel in LOVER FOR A DAY.

All that said, for a black & white film, there is a lot of grey area in Lover for a Day. Even as Jeanne is beneficially consoled by Ariane, she remains leery of this free spirited intuitive young woman who’s gotten her hooks into her easygoing pop. Perhaps she wonders how long it will be until she crushes him the way her ex has crushed her? There is an answer, and it is both rightly convoluted and terribly obvious. Is it wrong? In a morally neutral world such as this one, who could ever say?

These things can and do happen, and we make the best of it. That seems to be the point. Or a point.

 Taking place casually in small apartments, bedrooms, choice campus locations, and the streets of their European surroundings, Lover for a Day is shot in compelling greyscale, which simultaneously removes it from our reality, and heightens its own reality. French through and through in attitude and retro aesthetic, Lover for a Day is a well acted, intimate yet remote character study that pushes no boundaries, yet is for thoroughly mature arthouse audiences, those with patience and empathy.