Philippe Garrel – a stalwart filmmaker who admirably continues to keep the spirit of the French New Wave alive – with his latest, Lover for a Day, completes a trilogy also comprising his previous works Jealousy and In the Shadow of Women. Like the other two films, Lover for a Day is shot in luminous, shimmering monochrome, runs under 80 minutes, and deals with themes of fidelity, jealousy, passion, suicidal depression, and the general difficulty in maintaining, and navigating the shifting emotions of, romantic relationships.
As such, this film, both in the context of Garrel’s previous work and of other similarly minded works in general, may strike a familiar tone, even over-familiar for some. And given that one of the central relationships depicted is that between a university professor in his 50s and his student who’s in her 20s, this may actually seem off-putting, given the current heightened sensibilities regarding women’s depictions onscreen and treatment offscreen.
Happily, Garrel and his collaborators deftly avoid potential pitfalls by the delicate intimacy in how their characters’ interactions are rendered, as well as the distinctly woman-centered emphasis placed on this material. This is no doubt due to the fact that Garrel co-wrote the screenplay with two women, Caroline Deruas and Arlette Langmann, as well as the venerated writer Jean-Claude Carriere.
Lover for a Day, whose title could be a callback and contrast to Garrel’s soixante-huitard epic Regular Lovers, hangs on a rather slim narrative frame. Jeanne (Esther Garrel), in extreme distress after moving out of the apartment she shared with her boyfriend, turns up at the doorstep of her father Gilles (Eric Caravaca), who’s now living with his much younger lover Arianne (Louise Chevillote), who’s around Jeanne’s age.
Arianne immediately sympathizes and attempts to commiserate with the still sobbing Jeanne, as a fellow woman, that she’ll get over it soon (“We all do”). Jeanne initially rebuffs this kindness, cruelly noting that Arianne is “really less beautiful” than her mother. But soon the two grow close, Jeanne increasingly drawn to Arianne’s free-spirited ways, which include frequent assignations with her sexual partners outside her relationship with Gilles; her lovers for a day, if you will. She vacillates between the excitement and variety of these lovers and the intimate comfort of her regular lover. (This occasions the film’s most gorgeous sequence, a slow-dance montage of the two women dancing in a club with multiple partners, set to lovely musical accompaniment.) Jeanne and Arianne’s growing friendship also has them keeping secrets about each other from Gilles.
Early on, Gilles, already suspecting that this may be going on, tells Arianne that no act of infidelity by either of them should end their relationship. Gilles’ implication, which he later states outright, is that he’d rather not see or know any details of this. But even with this caveat and supposed tolerance of side flings, there’s little chance that Gilles and Arianne will end well.
Lover for a Day, as stated earlier, may seem superficially like more of the same from Garrel, but the female energies he foregrounds in this scenario lend a lyricism that feels fresh and new. The intimate settings of rumpled beds, tousled hair, and post-coital languorousness have rarely been so exquisitely framed.
Garrel’s players move, act, and react beautifully in this cinematic space, led by Esther Garrel, the director’s daughter in her first lead role in one of her father’s films, and she makes as great an impression with a more prominent role as she did in her other major recent work, Luca Guadagnino’s Call Me By Your Name. She wonderfully embodies a character slowly learning to live again after a devastating emotional loss. Louise Chevillote equals Garrel as a riveting presence, her body and freckled visage afforded loving close-ups by Garrel’s camera. And speaking of camera work, Renato Berta’s monochrome images glisten with extraordinary vividness. All of these elements help make Lover for a Day one of the early gems of cinema viewing in this new year.
Lover for a Day, which premiered at last year’s Director’s Fortnight in Cannes and also screened at the most recent edition of the New York Film Festival, is now playing in New York at the Film Society of Lincoln Center. For more information on screenings around the US and internationally, visit distributor MUBI’s website.