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Author: Michael Leonard

This book provides a comprehensive study of the cinema of Philippe Garrel, placing his work within the political context of France in the second half of the twentieth century (including the tumultuous events of May 68) and the broader contexts of auteur cinema and the avant-garde. Challenging the assumption that Garrel’s oeuvre exists in direct continuity with that of Jean-Luc Godard, François Truffaut et al., this study locates a more radical shift with Garrel’s predecessors by observing the eclecticism of the influences absorbed and exploited by the director. In doing so, it explores contexts beyond French cinema in order to interpret the director’s work, including avant-garde movements such as the Situationists, Surrealism, Arte Povera and the American Underground. Acknowledging Garrel’s role as an unofficial historian of the so-called ‘post-New Wave’, the study equally considers his relationship with other members of this loose film school, including Jean Eustache, Chantal Akerman and Jacques Doillon. The book is structured according to both a chronological and thematic reading of Garrel’s oeuvre. This method introduces different conceptual issues in each chapter while respecting the coherence of the various periodisations of the director’s career.

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Philippe Garrel, an irregular auteur
Michael Leonard

The introduction provides a brief overview of Garrel’s life and career, and a review of some of the key literature published on him. It argues for the need to provide a more nuanced analysis of his relationship with the New Wave and for a careful consideration of the director’s relationship with the political and artistic climate fostered by May 68. It also proposes to consider Garrel’s work in light of its intersection with other avant-gardes. The Introduction provides a summary of various chapters in the study.

in Philippe Garrel
Michael Leonard

Garrel’s ‘adolescent’ period (1964–1969) began with a series of short films, reminiscent of the cinema of the New Wave, extending to more austere and engaged works that were made in the period surrounding May 68. The analysis traces Garrel’s increasing distinction from the cinema of the New Wave, and challenges a common perception that he was a willing inheritor of this movement. It considers how his experimental works draw meaning through their relationship with positions and formal strategies developed in the cinema of Guy Debord (détournement, critique of the spectacle, anti-cinema), and how this suggests a political stance that remains linked to events happening on the street. Consideration is equally given to the significance of Garrel’s development of a ‘concentrationary’ aesthetic, something that foregrounds the link between May 68 and the legacy of the Holocaust.

in Philippe Garrel
Michael Leonard

Garrel’s underground period (1969–1978) saw the release of seven films, all made in collaboration with his partner Nico (Christa Päffgen, 1938–1988). Rather than analysing these films as a single category, two subcategories are proposed. The first category is associated with wealth, when Garrel was able to draw upon the generous support of a donor, Sylvina Boissonnas. The second is associated with poverty, covering the latter part of this underground period when his work was self-produced with modest resources. The chapter considers the relationship between Garrel’s cinema and the American Underground, looking in particular at the connection with Warhol’s use of portraiture in films made during his first Factory period. The chapter also looks to the precepts of the Italian avant-garde Arte Povera as a way of interpreting the political significance of the poverist modes of production that Garrel developed latterly. It argues that the film-maker’s poverist modes suggest a continued fidelity to the dissidence and non-conformism of May 68.

in Philippe Garrel
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Michael Leonard
in Philippe Garrel
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Autobiography and the imaginary self
Michael Leonard

The third chapter addresses Garrel’s narrative period (1979–1988), which begins with the confessional film L’Enfant secret. It explores the relationship between Garrel’s autobiographical approaches and Surrealism, especially the writings of André Breton, with whom the director expresses a strong affinity. A second aspect assesses Garrel’s role as historian. Two films from this period – Elle a passé tant d’heures sous les sunlights (1985) and Les Ministères de l’art (1989) – directly invoke the lives and works of other film-makers of Garrel’s generation. The chapter considers how Garrel integrates the personal histories of directors such as Jean Eustache, Chantal Akerman and Jacques Doillon with a broader history of a loose cinematic school that evolved in the aftermath of the New Wave.

in Philippe Garrel
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Michael Leonard

The fourth chapter addresses the tetralogy of films that mark Garrel’s first collaboration with scriptwriters: Les Baisers de secours (1989), J’entends plus la guitare (1991), La Naissance de l’amour (1993) and Le Cœur fantôme (1996). These works continue in the vein of the previous period, engaging with aspects of both Garrel’s present and past life, including marital difficulties and the conflict that emerges between the competing responsibilities towards one’s career and one’s family. In addition to providing close readings of the films, the chapter assesses the aesthetic implications of Garrel’s various collaborations with screenwriters, cinematographers and sound engineers during this period. Attention is equally paid to the relationship between Garrel and Eustache’s cinema, in particular to the echoes of La Maman et la putain (1974) that emerge in La Naissance de l’amour.

in Philippe Garrel
Michael Leonard

The final chapter addresses the most recent period in Garrel’s cinema, marked by his engagement with the experiences of younger generations. Since La Naissance de l’amour (1993) Garrel has produced eight films at the time of writing and is currently working on his ninth, Le Sel des larmes. This chapter identifies several distinct threads that together form loose subcategories within this body of work. The first concerns the memory and legacy of May 68, explored in the works Le Vent de la nuit (1999) and Les Amants réguliers (2005). The second concerns films that confront issues relating to young couples and the trauma of separation, including Sauvage Innocence (2001), La Frontière de l’aube (2008) and Un Été brûlant (2010). A third thread relates to the films La Jalousie (2013), L’Ombre des femmes (2015) and L’Amant d’un jour (2017). Filmed in black and white and each with a duration of approximately seventy-five minutes, the works have been described by Stephane Delorme as a ‘trilogie freudienne’. Consideration is given to the comparatively lighter tone that emerges in the latter films which hint at a cautious optimism on the part of Garrel.

in Philippe Garrel
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Michael Leonard

The conclusion draws together the key themes addressed in the study and reflects on Garrel’s standing in French film culture today. Comparisons are drawn with the careers of Chantal Akerman and Jean Eustache.

in Philippe Garrel