Quick and Sharp, by Scott Nye
If you were to guess that a black-and-white French film about the difficulty of modern romance, titled Jealousy, dealt principally with issues of fidelity, uncertainty, temptation, and neuroses, you could hardly be said to be mistaken. Even at a scant 77 minutes, there are enough scenes of men and women struggling to communicate (despite talking incessantly) to challenge anything this side of Jean Eustache’s The Mother and the Whore. But the latest film from Philippe Garrel also takes a more universal view of the feeling. The envy a child feels towards her father’s new girlfriend, for example – not a romantic jealousy, but still the want for a love clearly there that has been directed towards someone else. The envy of people in movies, or those leading lives completely distinct from our own. The jealousy over work ethic, over loyalty, over something as simple as lifestyle. And, finally, the corrupting influence that feeling has on the person feeling it. The way that jealousy turns into a rotting obsession.
Louis (Louis Garrel, Phillipe’s son) stars as a starving actor who has recently left his family for a more exciting fellow performer, Claudia (Anna Mouglalis), who, like many young and exciting people, proves a little less than reliable. When a man leaves one woman for another, he typically assumes the new relationship will be the one that finally sticks. He is not often correct. His infatuation with Claudia is such that he needs nothing more than her affection and a rundown studio apartment for them to share. She wants considerably more, and not just in the residential arena.
Louis’s daughter, Charlotte (Olga Milshtein), wants what most young children wrestling with divorce want – her family. But, lacking that, she’ll latch onto whatever family she can, and now Louis’s ex, Clothilde (Rebecca Convenant) has to contend not only with losing a husband to someone else, but gradually losing a bit of her daughter to that same woman. What could she do? You can’t blame Louis for seeking happiness, nor Claudia for getting along so well with Charlotte, nor Charlotte, a six-year-old, for coming home and preferring, in the moment, somebody who treated you to candy. Jealousy is a demand to control other people for an uncontrollable impulse in oneself.
Garrel (the filmmaker) mostly surveys his landscape with a sort of detachment familiar to the French New Wave movement he joined at a young age (his first short was completed in 1964 when he was sixteen; by the events of May ‘68, he was riding around with Godard, shooting newsreel footage). Despite this relative remove from his characters both in his drama and life – at 66, he’s hardly the contemporary of those he depicts – he really has a feel for the relatively meaningless pursuits in which young people engage, even when they know what brings them true happiness. It’s a slight, incisive piece of filmmaking, a quick cut that leaves one stinging for days.