A Life in Film: Philippe Garrel Talks About His Newest Work ‘Jealousy’ in Film Comment

Posted by on 8.16.2014

Cinema runs through Philippe Garrel's veins. He's the son of French actor Maurice Garrel and directed his own son, Louis, in Jealousy, in which he plays the lead. The film topped Film Comment's Best Undistributed Film of 2013 list, screened as the 52nd New York Film Festival, and begins its theatrical release at the Film Society today.

Jean-Marc Lalanne and Jean-Baptiste Morain sat down with Garrel for Les Inrockuptibles to discuss the film and his personal approach to the story. Film Comment translated the interview into English. Highlights from the interview are below and the complete verison (translated by Max Nelson) can be found in the July/August 2014 issue of Film Comment.

Film Comment: Jealousy concerns your parents' separation when you were a child. Is this a subject that you've carried with you for a long time?

Philippe Garrel: No. The idea came after my father's death. I think of his death every day. Or at least, I think about him all the time since his death. So it semed natural to me to talk about him in a film. When he was 20, Maurice landed on the beaches with the Allied forces. I wanted to make a film that would show him leaving Africa, but I couldn't afford it. Caroline Deruas, my screenwriter, was at that point corresponding with a woman who had been my father's partner when I was little, and she suggested that I make a film of their story. Arlette Langmann wrote many of the scenes, and then Marc Cholodenko signed on to fill us in on the world of the theater, the working-class crows of actors, their lives, their anxieties, the world that my father frequented when he was young. I had already titled the film J'ai gardé des anges ["I Kept Angels"]. But finally, on my producer's advice, I chose Jealousy. I thought of Moravia, who chose very general words for the titles of his novels–ideas that would interest everyone.

FC: Would you say that your films speak about your life?

PG: Let's say that they are autobiographical and that, these days, they're dedicated to my life. My previous film, A Burning Hot Summer, was dedicated to my best friend, the painter Frédéric Pardo. This one is dedicated to my father. There are autobiographical spots. But the most autobiographical components of my most recent films come from dreams that I've jotted down and mixed with fiction. I set things up so that you can't pick out the "real" scenes. But I won't tell you what in the film came from a dream. I won't give away my tricks! [Laughs]

FC: Would you say that cinema has complicated your life?

PG: At times, cinema has created my life. At others, it's partly destroyed it. Carax says that "cinema destroys life." That's true, but not exclusively. It's a dialectic, a movement. It creates an erosion; it eats away at life a little. But in other places, it shores it up.

FC: How does it destroy?

PG: It's a way to enter a house full of strangers. These strangers are the characters, and they make everyone mildly psychotic.

FC: In Jealousy, we thought we found your first Truffaut reference. Louis says: "It's been a long time that I've known who I am. It's a blessing and a pain," which recalls the Truffaut-esque sentiment "it's both a joy and a pain"—a line that turns up in both Mississippi Mermaid and The Last Metro.

PG: Truffaut has meant a lot to me, it's true. But Godard, too. The women in Truffaut's films are magnificent, but they're object-women, objects of desire. They're worshipped, and they're a little phosphorescent, like goddesses. Whereas Godard would film his actresses straight in the eye, as intellectual equals. I find that that makes the world much more beautiful and interesting–that equality between men and women. At the start of the Sixties, very few men thought that. My idea today, which I've tried to examine in my recent films, is that the masculine libido and the feminine libido have exactly the same power.

FC: Shooting little footage—which started as an obligation and eventually evolved into an artistic position—makes it possible for you to work for little money.

PG: Yes, that method becomes a part of the whole, in the end. For Jealousy, there were only five hours of rushes, and the film is 76 minutes. I'm far from the 600 hours of rushes Kechiche shot for Blue Is the Warmest Color. His film is better than mine, but is it a hundred times better? [Laughs] It's all right with me that French cinema should be saved by Blue Is the Warmest Color.

FC: Saved? Is it in danger?

PG: Yes, there's nothing anymore. I haven't seen Stranger by the Lake, mind you, and I'm sure it's good, because Guiraudie has a personal style and That Old Dream That Moves was a marvel. I loved Camille Rewinds by Noémie Lvovsky. And Holy Motors by Leos Carax. I find his narrative ideas brilliant. The story of this guy whose job is to play different people and professions, I find that extraordinary. It makes me thing of Situationism: everyone is an actor. Everything happens as the staging of a spectacle. It's a level of collective alienation that humanity's arrived at. And the musical scenes in the church and La Samaritaine are magnificent. And I thought Bruno Dumont's Camille Claudel 1915 was terrific. The idea of a famous actress, Juliette Binoche, surrounded by actual mental patients fits a certain reality. Because—and this is an idea I really believe—in nearly every asylum there's a locked intellectual. He's not mad; he just has a persecution complex or some kind of fragility. I think that's always relevant and that if we could see today's society clearly, we'd cry all day, like certain mental patients. The film gives you that idea.

Jealousy begins its two-week exclusive theatrical run at the Film Society today.

[Alexander Hunter adapted this Film Comment excerpt for FilmLinc Daily.]

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