Dir: Philippe Garrel. 2008. France. 108mins.
The indelible power of true love, however destructive or impractical, is at the flawed heart of Frontier Of Dawn. Earnest, inherently divisive effort, lusciously photographed in black and white, is one of the weaker recent entries in Philippe Garrel’s four decade career of bravely iconoclastic art films. Garrel’s son Louis continues to embody his generation, projecting an appealing blend of mop-topped insouciance with doubt and anguish on tap. But his presence in this episodic love story with supernatural overtones is insufficient to overcome the film’s endearing but awkward retrograde aura.
Nothing could render Garrel’s work commercial at this late date, although his Night Wind (1998) featured one of Catherine Deneueve’s most interesting roles and Regular Lovers (2005) surely won the director new fans. Beyond France, this outing will remain a curio, with news of its for-or-against Cannes debut likely to fuel curiosity among fest audiences elsewhere.
Photographer Francois (Garrel) arrives at the spacious Paris apartment of Carole (Smet), an actress, to take her portrait. Although the story is pegged to 2007 and after, Francois shoots on film and uses a darkroom. There’s not a cell phone or computer in sight and characters write to each other on sheets of paper rather than via email or text messages. The director paints a contemporary yet timeless world in which the intensity of human feelings is the main distraction.
Although Carole recently married a countryman who has been abroad since the wedding, within 24 hours Francois and Carole have segued into an affair. The lovers speak of how they’ll go about calling it quits one day even as their romance is in full bloom.
When Carole’s husband returns, Francois keeps his distance which, to put it mildly, has an adverse effect on Carole’s mental health. A year later Francois has remade his life with Eve (Poidatz), yet finds himself haunted - literally - by Carole.
While the film’s central stab at visual poetry - a sort of magic mirror with a direct pipeline to the afterworld for doomed lovers - takes the story in an unforeseen direction, the effect will be risible for many; it elicited titters and guffaws at the Cannes press screening. And yet, Garrel is legitimately mining the territory he has carved out for himself from the very start: the ravages of being apart from one’s soulmate in this realm or the next. He remains dedicated to depicting feelings and states of being on celluloid, via the interplay of light and shadow.
Moments of intentional levity are scarce but include the amusing and quotable ‘windshield wiper’ theory of romance and friendship. Another scene that shines is Francois’ encounter in a bar with a gung-ho self-described anti-Semite. The director seems to be suggesting that anti-Semitism, like ‘l’amour fou’ and it’s scars, are givens. One can no sooner eradicate - or even tone down - anti-Semitism than one can obliterate the fallout of true love.
Les Films du Losange
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