February 4, 2007


Les Amants de...

New Babylon...They Live By Night
"We work for ourselves, not for the bosses..."
"Banks, that us."

"If you get loaded and act the clown, be the laughing stock of all the town, it's your red wagon..."

Les Amants réguliers

Regular Lovers
"Gunshot Dreams"
"You're with real people now"

...crime story...

"Riot cop, under your uniform you too are jobless."
(graffiti from the anti-CPE uprising in France, Feb.-April 2006)

"All films about crime are about capitalism, because capitalism is about crime." (Abraham Polonsky in Red Hollywood)

...love story...

Love and crime, two poles among revolution.

Love stories have to include crime stories in a certain society.

"This boy and this girl were never properly introduced to the world we live in ."
(They Live By Night, Nicholas Ray, 1949)

We can see about love and crime in Mizoguchi too, especially in the 30's. Almost all of them have to do with the class struggle through love. Love is either reified -- love doused in the icy water of egotistical calculation, nothing but a process through which people are turned into things, a process Mizoguchi shows as clear as the Osaka day -- or it is the door to consciousness, resistance, revolt -- Tokai Kokyogaku (Mizoguchi, 1929): Osome, a waitress at a cafe has been in love with Harukichi, son of a company president, but is shocked to learn that he has become engaged to Reiko, the daughter of a bank president. Osome tries to confront Harukichi about the matter, but he will have nothing to do with her. She later meets Genzo, a childhood playmate. Genzo tells her that their hometown, a fishing village, has deteriorated on account of the company (Harukichi's). Genzo's life is complete poverty and he has come to the big city to avenge the rich.

Lovers in the revolution and of the revolution, why else would you make revolution, if you want to make revolution?

Above, 1792, Jean-Joseph Bomier (Edmund Ardisson) dies in the arms of Louison (Nadia Sibirskaïa) in La Marseillaise (Renoir, 1938).

Renoir said about Marie Antoinette: "quite simply (she was) very stupid, really an idiot. All her adventures were grotesque: her constant compromising, her pre-romanticism, her unbridled waste, and the story of the necklace and the Trianon and running the silk manufacturers of Lyons out of business, because she wanted her undergarments made only from fine linen and said so, proclaimed it, and waged war on silk. Not that I like silk, but many people lived off it, and needed royal publicity to sell it."

In La Marseillaise, Renoir has Antoinette always bitterly affected, harrassed and harassing, stung by her own insatiability, a frigid enforcer of royal code and appearances (she is brilliantly played by Lise Delamare). Her only love scene is with this man, of the Royal Guard, just before the Marseillais storm the palace:

Royal Guard: "It is best to allow them to force the gates. Once the rebels are inside, a volley from our guns must destroy the majority. Should some survive, or our gunners be won over,
our best men occupy windows overlooking the yard in a position to effect a crippling fire. We may expect, with luck, few assailants to escape our trap alive."

Marie Antoinette: "We must keep right on our side. By entering the yard they will avow their insubordination."

The Royal Guard at the gates are won over, not by the guns of the rebels, but by fraternity and common enemy. This is also the story of New Babylon (Trauberg/Kosintzev, 1929), people going to the other side; Jean, a Versailles soldier, deserts the army which is suppressing the Paris Commune. He is brought to consciousness by conditions ("no more milk!") and by his lover, Louis (Elena Kuzmina, pictured above). But Jean comes to consciousness too slowly, too late. He walks as slow as anyone ever has walked in the cinema, across the cobblestones, all his fellow deserters, horses even, pass him by. He'll be forced at gunpoint to bury his freshly executed lover in the mud: the massacre of the Communards. She is dead and the Commune goes with her, but the film ends in chalk: VIVE LA COMMUNE.

Did François (Louis Garrel), the young disaffected poet of Les Amants réguliers, go to the other side? The other side of his bourgeois origin towards revolutionary unity against capital (in the events of May '68)? Or did he desert, go to the other side, against the revolution, in opium smoke? In the final section of the film, indicated by a title card "The Sleep of the Just", he goes to an other side; his lover Lilie leaves him and he dies. A cop is the last one to touch François as he takes François's pulse, then steps back into the darkness.

Existence opens and closes with iris shots. An iris shot opens up to the riot police, readying themselves for a confrontation with the students on the barricades. Later, François, barely discernable at the barricades, just manages to escape the cops and, covered in ash from the fires, looks for a place to hide. He goes to the apartment of a family member and tells her, in her plain quiet apartment, what's been happening. It's the chief bit about the events of May '68 that François expresses in the film: "the police, they're real bastards...they hit women...". Chris Marker explained this in his documentary film Le Fond de l'air est rouge. This realization was repeated again and again, almost like theatre; students in the US and France, not accustomed to seeing the repressive State apparatus are given a naked display of it when they act up: suddenly, its not in books -- "this shit really exists!". François, still covered in ash, takes a bath and the iris slowly closes in, perhaps closing this chapter of his existence as a revolutionary actor (if we consider him one).

Earlier in the film, when he was being primed to join the barricades, evading military service and being put on trial for doing so, we see that even a certain playing by the rules of the game does nothing for François. During trial, François's lawyer evokes the importance of French poets in an attempt to garner sympathy for the boy and his role in society as a poet, to excuse him from service. This scene has been interpreted as pure comedy, absurd, but the lawyer is sincerely doing his job in an attempt to appeal to the judges, basically on nationalistic grounds (certainly not poetic ones). It's tragic. The judge's response to the appeal is startling: "Rimbaud and Baudelaire can go to prison". No cultural preservation here, things are a little different by 1968. This judge is no Lestingois.

Gabe Klinger has linked Garrel's film to Renoir's "everyone has their reasons" approach to point of view, and indeed Renoir's "regularness" in regards to grand events, and grandeur in regards to small events, has echo in Les amants réguliers . Neither filmmaker judges their characters. That said, I have to wonder aloud about the meaning of this scene that Gabe describes:

"Garrel and screenwriters Marc Cholodenko and Arlette Langmann are optimistic in their portrayal of the relationship between state and individual. In another late scene, a notary and a detective visit the house of François's rich friend Antoine to collect a bill. The two officials look around at the bohemian setting, and instead of acting suspicious or snobby, they engage the two youths in an affectionate dialogue about the future."

Affectionate is the perfect word for this scene, and it's a bit of relief from the threat of the authorities that looms over the rest of the film. Affection is essential, but people never quote the first part of Renoir's "...everyone has their reasons..." and that is: "the terrible thing is....everyone has their reasons." It is the notary and the detective who are affectionate: they know they're getting paid (unlike the judge at François's trial, just before May '68). They are bemused about their surroundings because the friend is rich, the bill will be paid.

Antagonisms are now gone but I would hesitate to call this optimistic; the flame is extinguished. Though, there is an open flame referred to constantly as François and his rich friend smoke opium. No telling how much time has passed. Defeat is in the air, as is poetry, and almost as heavily. Defeat is easy to come by today; poetry, not so easy.

Garrel: "You know, every cent in Les amants réguliers has come from the political left, even though it's a production funded by private and public money. (...) It had to be that way. There was no way you could tell this story that offers a radically left perspective with right-wing money."

If it's hard to tell how much time has passed in the film, it's because historic events are seldom referred to after the barricades are shown in the first 1/3rd of the film. Like in the other great film of 2006, Colossal Youth, historical events are buried beneath presence and light, passing far below the matter of the film, but always there. And, as in Colossal Youth, clothing plays a major role in Les amants réguliers. Post-barricades, François's clothing remains exactly the same, Lilie's too, though certainly, at least months are passing. In Colossal, Ventura's change of clothes is one thing we notice as an indication of an historical jump back, up to 25 years back. But these changes, or lack of changes, are the least simple thing about these movies. Colossal, which ends up being the more narrative of the two films, is also the more documentary of a film, with Ventura and the testaments he hears becoming historical events in and of themselves, as the stories of those excluded from history and the present, and visually, as presences burning themselves into the pixels (to paraphrase Michael Sicinski). In Les amants réguliers, the lack of change in clothes purifies the love story, which Garrel wishes to be classical (comparing it to The Charterhouse of Parma by Stendhal).

Love is difficult to speak about; which is why this post goes on like this... Les amants réguliers is a love story. The lovers in Regular Lovers don't meet like Keechie and Bowie in They Live by Night (Les Amants de la nuit), innocently among very guilty criminal conditions into which they were born (the Depression, a criminal catatrophe of capitalism which Gabriel Kolko says is upon us again). They don't meet like Mizoguchi's lovers, through bosses (or through workers for that matter). They don't meet like the revolutionary actors in Renoir's La Marseillaise, with historic tasks (though perhaps Marseillaise's way of loving is similar to Regular Lovers, if inverse: where Garrel's regular lovers barely cross history, in La Marseillaise, history barely crosses the lovers -- both are un-articulated loves). It's certainly not the ecstatic overthrow of an old kind of love for a new kind of love, as in New Babylon. Garrel's lovers meet at a mild get together like nameless people.

So what is it, aside from regular love and a bit of history, because surely this film is tremendously overwhelming? The music (piano accompaniment to invisible planes) and sound (intimist) are fantastic, the photography must be the finest black and white photography in 20 years (shot by Willy Lubtchansky). What else exactly? Hard to say.

There is something the cinema is capable of (Garrel said it: "Cinema is only mise en scene"), it is essentially made of it: the terror of sudden absences and appearances, dreams and bodies materialized, flesh, the weight of silence, gravity over time -- the things of lovers. A physics of love which all cinema is linked to, if it thinks, anyhow. 

"Freedom is the crime that contains all crimes. It is our ultimate weapon."
(May '68 graffiti)


c said...

beautiful :)

Andy Rector said...

thank you, c.

did I see a still frame (from les amants reguliers) of the hammer laying on the ground (with two drops of blood) on dias felizes, long ago? If not, I wonder where I saw it, because the image was very familiar.

c said...

no Andy, I didn't publish that still frame of the hammer (but i've send you a image from "Elle a passé tant d'heures sous les sunlights" — a month ago I think, did you received it?)

Daniel Kasman said...

Amazing post Andy. I haven't seen the Renoir or the Mizoguchi from that period but the connections to the Ray film I find very intriguing. There is an idealism in the loves of the two films, but I need to think more (and see the Ray again) before I can draw the lines...

Andy Rector said...

C.(Ms. Terre)- I did receive your Capital still from sunlights...lovely, and since it's laying on the bed, that means someone is reading it. I haven't seen that Garrel film but someone has just loaned me the Cahiers dvd, so, soon...

phyrephox- thanks. I haven't seen the Mizo film cited either, I believe it's a lost film...but reading through the lost 30's films one finds definite class/love themes among them. Also, many of them are contemporary, not historical films.
The link between Ray and Garrel is a proposition...but even PARTY GIRL is entirely predicated on the the couple's meeting, parting, meeting, parting...
It's something about the rhythms too...