Cinema Scope: In Les amants réguliers, a very subjective, very personal take on May 1968, your son Louis plays a 20-year-old guy getting caught up in an unexpected revolution. You were 20 in 1968 as well. How autobiographical is this film?
Philippe Garrel: It’s autobiographical only as far as the period is concerned. The love story on the other hand is more Romantic, very literary. But formally the film is of course very personal: the scene in which Louis meets the girl crossing the street is deliberately shot like a newsreel. I did shoot a lot of documentary footage of the events of May 68 myself in 35mm [Actua I, 1968], but unfortunately I lost all the negatives of that material. So I tried to reconstruct those images now, three-and-a-half decades later. I tried to shoot them exactly the same way again. In that sense, Les amants réguliers is less autobiographical than a reproduction of the films I shot at that time. That is as far as the autobiography extends: it concerns the period, the climate, the morale of that story. The romance part has more to do with Proust, though, and other literary references. I am now 57 years old, this is my 24th film, and I did in fact already create films that were a lot more autobiographical – films like L’enfant secret (1979). In Les amants réguliers, the love story needed to be more universal, more classical, so that it would make identification possible.
Scope: Les amants réguliers cultivates a very austere, very painterly kind of beauty. How did you work with William Lubtchansky? Did you let him do what he wanted, or did you have any say in the camera work?
Garrel: That depended really. William and I belong to the same generation, as does my editor, Françoise Collin. This film truly is a generational movie. We all identified strongly with this story. So we decided to exchange ideas often. And since we all have definitely reached the second half of our working lives, it depended very much on who was most awake at a given morning, and who liked to direct things. At our age we tend to group together more easily than we used to do. So in the film there are camera positions that are typically mine, and other framings that are more characteristic of William. We worked together like musicians, really: we had dialogues, like a jazz band that keeps improvising on what had been written. Whoever felt like playing, played first.
Scope: It’s been four years since your last film, Sauvage innocence (2001). Has it become even more difficult to finance your work lately?
Garrel: You know, every cent in Les amants réguliers has come from the political left, even though it’s a production funded by private and public money. That’s not a joke, it’s true. It had to be that way. There was no way you could tell this story that offers a radically left perspective with right-wing money.
Philippe Garrel in conversation with Stefan Grisseman1
“Garrel’s work is less ‘first person cinema’ than something more collective – a ‘family romance’ based on ages, generations, transmissions. Regular Lovers brings everything to a peak in its three-way dinner table scene of son-playing-father (Louis Garrel), ex-wife (Brigitte Sy, Louis’s mother) playing his own mother, and Maurice Garrel as now the somewhat dotty but hypnotically appealing grandfather.
With Regular Lovers, at last, the great myth of origin underlying the entire Garrel œuvre is revealed, re-created, and directly depicted: 1968 and the riots, the life-and-death struggles with police at the barricades... And now, the paranoia, the sense of being an eternal outsider to society, the fragility of sanity and the anxiety of ever holding onto a glorious moment, all this suddenly make perfect sense in the light of that momentous origin in a divided Paris of ’68 that resembles nothing so much (in Garrel’s retrospective depiction) as a Bosnian war zone.
Back in the bedrooms, there is sleep. Garrel is a poet of sleep to rival, even surpass, Murnau. From its first moments, Regular Lovers shows us its characters supine, laid out on couches or on the floor, relaxed as they suck on the opium pipe. Among his silent, abstract, experimental portrait-films of the Seventies, Les Hautes solitudes (1974) with Jean Seberg concentrates mainly on the Warholian spectacle of sleep – because what event could pose for us, more acutely, the ‘paradox of the actor’ (as Denis Diderot once dubbed it), whether he/she is ‘performing’ or simply ‘being’? There are two types of sleeper in Garrel’s films: dead sleepers and light sleepers. Dead sleepers zone out, escape all torment and misery for those blessed moments of sheer unconsciousness. Light sleepers are those disturbed souls who suffer every kind of night terror – and perhaps the single most terrifying sight in any Garrel film is the glimpse of a child who cannot sleep. Garrelian sleep is the gateway to death – its prefiguration, for death, as Regular Lovers calls it, is the ‘sleep of the just’ – and to the realm of dreams. We should never overlook Garrel’s attachment to Surrealism: dream sequences appear prominently in Regular Lovers [and many of his other films].
It is the world itself – in its most seemingly 'regular' faces, bodies, gestures, spaces and places – that comes into being as we watch his work. Love is truly a mystery in Garrel, and it happens between people who (as in Nicholas Ray’s They Live by Night ) have ‘not properly been introduced to the world we live in’; the yearning to understand this mystery permeates these films, finding its richest expression in those early scenes between François and Lilie in Regular Lovers: two people standing or sitting together, just looking, or being silent, or exchanging a few words... an intimate spectacle which returns us to the very heart of Garrel’s poetic cinema.”
- 1Philippe Garrel and Stefan Grisseman, “History is the enemy of art: Philippe Garrel on Les amants réguliers,” Cinema Scope, nr. 25, 2006, 29.
- 2Adrian Martin, “A Cinema of Intimate Spectacle: The Poetics of Philippe Garrel,” Cineaste, nr. 4, 2009, 37-41.