Lover for a Day May 16, 2018
1 Hr., 16 Mins.
he final part of Philippe Garrel’s trilogy of love, 2018’s Lover for a Day, is quietly luminous in the ways its somnambulant counterparts were not. Exteriorly modest but emotionally elephantine, its intriguing kitchen-sink dramas orbit around Jeanne (Esther Garrel, daughter of Philippe), a young woman who moves in with her father, Gilles (Éric Caravaca), and his much-younger girlfriend, Ariane (Louise Chevillotte), after she and her boyfriend messily break up.
The set-up is simple. But the relationships, which grow increasingly
mussed the more Jeanne and Ariane warm up to one another, are Gordian. Though Gilles is key to the film’s sporadic turmoil, it is the women of the movie who fuel the action most considerably: At some point, we even consider that the feature just might coincidentally be an account of a period in their lives they’ll later refer to as a turning point.
The other films in Garrel’s love trilogy, 2013’s Jealousy and 2016’s In the Shadow of Women, similarly worked with little, and sought to find decently sizable emotional payoffs by unromantically watching characters go about their lives. I found Jealousy tritely ennui-ridden and I haven’t seen Women, so I assume Lover for a Day was left last because of its relational complexities and its riskier characters. While stylistically minimalist, a sense of more dances below the surface.
Jeanne and Ariane’s relationship is forever shifting, sometimes outlined in antagonism and sometimes in the kind of intimacy you reserve for a confidant. They often find themselves jealous of how the other receives affection from Gilles, but they also notice that they, in a way, need each other. Both are romantically disorderly (Jeanne seems incapable of recovering from her breakup; Ariane habitually cheats on Gilles but says it’s just for pleasure and doesn’t mean anything), both are anxious about getting older, and both know what it’s like to be so dependent on the sometimes-unloving artistic type that is Gilles. The film’s best moments come when the two, unadorned, sit next to one another and tiredly discuss their neuroses.
Certainly, Lover for a Day, which was shot in black and white and produced on a shoestring budget, recalls the best films of the sometimes overly no-frills French New Wave cinematic period of the late 1950s and early-to-mid 1960s, where Garrel famously got his start. (He made his filmmaking debut in 1964, at the age of 16, with Les Enfants Désaccordés.) But here, the commitment to simplicity is not off-putting or unnaturally postured. It's clear-eyed, able to amplify the self-doubts and unease of its characters in the subtlest of ways.
Once the film wraps, we’re certain Jeanne will learn to vouch for herself thanks to her and Ariane’s unpredictable friendship. And we’re certain Ariane will come to realize that her debaucherous tendencies, while satisfying in the moment, are hindering her personal growth instead of adding to it, in opposition to what she thinks. It’s this sense of unfinishedness that makes Lover for a Day such an effective exercise. Its characters are strong enough to come across as fully formed individuals and not one-note creations who live and die according to their screen time. B
This review also appeared on Verge Campus.