In the Shadow of Women: Appearances can be deceiving
by Fabien Lemercier
- CANNES 2015: A classic, splendid and artistically refined piece by Philippe Garrel opens the parallel section of Cannes with panache
A magnificently sculpted black and white film which plunges us into the twists and turns of life as a couple, a striking and deceptively simple film about truth, lies and blindness, an implicit portrait of life as a penniless artist: the best ingredients of the inimitable and timeless style of French filmmaker Philippe Garrel are brought together in In the Shadow of Women [+see also:
film profile] which today opens the 47th Director’s Fortnight of the 68th Cannes Film Festival. By placing Stanislas Merhar, Clotilde Courau and Lena Paugam in the leading roles, the French filmmaker happily brings back his favourite themes, creating a short film (1h13) that is clean-cut and bright as a solitary star following its unwavering trajectory through the ages, since Philippe Garrel was already featured in the 1st Directors’ Fortnight in 1969. A long career that he has made good use of to refine a fascinating mastery of aesthetics grafted onto a universal emotional vein tinged with a hint of the autobiographical.
"He didn’t want to. She didn’t want to. But they still split up". The rigorous storyline, concocted by Jean-Claude Carrière, Caroline Deruas, Arlette Langmann and the director, systematically dissects the paradoxes and contradictions of love. The plot seems simple at the outset: Pierre (Merhar) and Manon (Courau) have loved each other for a long time and work together, the former as a documentary maker and the latter as a script editor who is deeply devoted to her man. The couple is poor, in danger of not being able to pay the rent, and does odd jobs to be able to carry on shooting a film on the Resistance during the Second World War. Difficult to understand and not very affectionate towards Manon, Pierre starts an adulterous affair with Elisabeth (Paugam), a relationship without promise (since he cares for his “official” life as one half of a couple) that is purely founded, in Pierre’s eyes, on lust, causing his young mistress much suffering. Until the day she discovers by chance that Manon also has a lover. A discovery that sets a lot of painful soul-searching in motion…
Imperceptibly and skilfully extracting the fine layers of his reflection from under the surface of the classic story of conjugal agreements and disagreements, Philippe Garrel realistically and keenly tackles the subject of truth, demonstrating (not without hidden irony) that even a man whose job is to look and distinguish between the truth and lies can be completely misled, just like those who declare themselves as tough sometimes turn out to be out-and-out liars when the day of reckoning arrives. Magnified by the photography of Renato Berta, this mirror on the self and others, where the most selfish certainties and the most fanciful feelings of ownership merge together in a swirling cloud of guilt and misleading impressions, makes In the Shadow of Women an accomplished work that will delight fans of the filmmaker. Tracing out a cinematographic groove without deviating from it or worrying about modes (notably turning his back on the surplus of information and speed that characterises our time, punctuating his story with a rather literary voice-over), Philippe Garrel succeeds in finding the best way of removing temporal limits to crystallise his exploration of people.
(Translated from French)