Auteurists believe a director’s personality is present in every frame he shoots. In the works of the criminally underrated Philippe Garrel, you get not only a singular artistic anima but, often, the creator’s life flayed bare. Like his 2005 esprit de ’68 scrapbook Regular Lovers, this 1991 drama draws deeply from Garrel’s personal history. The philandering, drug-addicted Gérard (Régent) represents the filmmaker—or rather, all of his negative traits crammed into one self-loathing character. His girlfriend, Marianne (Ter Steege), is an avatar for the director’s late lover Nico, to whom Garrel dedicated the film.
Bonding over notions of passion as a transcendent perpetuity, Gérard and Marianne bicker, break up and reunite while riding the white horse, eventually splitting prior to his settling down. (The fact that the new female presence in his life is played by Brigitte Sy, Garrel’s former spouse and the mother of his son, Louis, only adds to the nakedly confessional aspect.) When Marianne reinserts herself into Gérard’s life, she’s clean but no less emotionally volatile. You can guess what’s around the corner.
Utilizing an elliptical style that’s alternately invigorating and maddening—Gérard goes from druggie to daddy in a single cut—Garrel’s eulogy is both a tribute and a pitiless autopsy of a couple’s self-destructive tango. The guitar he can no longer hear, however, isn’t just the late singer but the promises the past sweeps away. According to the movie, that’s the macrotragedy of life: Be they social or romantic, youthful ideologies are destined to eventually die on the vine.