By Woojung Kim, Staff Writer
Influenced by his father, Maurice Garrel, a well-known French actor, Philippe Garrel began to write and direct at the age of 16, starting with the film “L’enfants desaccordes.” Winning the Award for Feature Film at Prix Jean Vigo in 1982, Garrel began to get recognition as a filmmaker with his now widely-recognized film “L’enfant secret.”
“Because there was him, because there was me,” says Elie (Anne Wiazemsky) after she visits Jean-Baptiste (Henri de Maublanc) in a mental institution. Produced in 1979, “L’enfant secret” is a black and white film about a man and a woman, in their thirties, who fall in delicate love, but soon face difficulties living in reality. The story regarding the couple is supposedly meant to depict the love between Garrel himself and his past lover Nico, a German singer.
Elie and Jean-Baptiste meet on a country retreat and they waste no time falling passionately in love with each other when they reunite back in Paris. They are also joined by Elie’s son, Swann (Xuan Lindenmeyer), who Elie had with another man before her encounter with Jean-Baptiste. Despite their love, the couple lives in poverty — Elie does not have a job and Jean-Baptiste’s profession as an independent filmmaker does not provide him with a steady income. After being arrested during a political protest, Jean-Baptiste ends up in the mental institution. Devastated without her love, Elie turns to heroin. The saturation of black and white differs according to the contrasting atmosphere, illustrating the couple’s bliss against their conflict. The subtle camera movements and the score by Faton Cahen present the film in a reserved manner and adorn Elie and Jean-Baptiste’s personality even more.
As depicted in “L’enfant secret,” Garrel preferred to take many aspects in his life and exhibit them in his cinematic works. Many of his acquaintances — such as his father, son, daughter and past lovers — acted in his films. In “La cicatrice interieure,” made in 1972, his ex-girlfriend Nico starred as the Woman; Garrel himself also starred in the film as Man. “La cicatrice interieure” is a film about the Woman who speaks out her concerns in English and sometimes in German. She plumps down on the ground and cries for help but after being rejected by the Man, she eventually says to “stay away from me [her]”. The Woman then wanders around occasionally with a child and another nude man stating, “Nonsense on my right, mercy on my left. There is no mercy. There is no justice. The sea shall rise over your heads.”
In contrast to “L’enfant secret”, “La cicatrice interieure” is a film of color. Encompassing no meaning, the film correlates the nature of water, air, fire and earth. Its aesthetics of the cold nature is as enchanting and breathtaking as Garrel’s magnum opus, “L’enfant secret.”
The largest U.S. career retrospective of Philippe Garrel began on Thursday, Oct. 12 at the Metrograph at 7 Ludlow St.