Philippe Garrel’s In The Shadow of Women is his Jacques Rivette film: a work of masks, intrigues, labyrinthine deceptions and power games...but applied to the most intimate of relationships. So too is it thus a 69 minute long miracle of economy:
We will see the meanings of these frames later. As Garrel says in his press conference: "For me, In The Shadow of Women
is a film about the equality of men and women in as far as cinema can achieve this."
And insofar as it is a meditation on equality between men and women, it too is also in dialogue with cinema itself.
“...a history of cinema as communication between man and woman.” – Garrel, New York 2015
A good alternate title would be:
Now, how do we get from point A to point B?
“I also use images from my dreams. I am looking for a form of oneirism which nevertheless remains attached to reality.” —Garrel in conversation with Jean-Michel Frodon, 2015
“A woman has disappeared” could be key to what constitutes the haunted realm of Garrel’s cinema— something is lost, something is missing...
Garrel's Les hautes solitudes (1974) is the first true instance of this haunted cinema, leavened by the geography of the human face:
“Maybe he’s talking to us about Nico through Jean Seberg, or vice versa” —Miguel Marias
For years, Garrel makes films searching for Nico after they broke up, an obvious cinema of portraits and autobiography:
The only way he is able to move on from her is by learning of her own physical passing—
Thus this “form of onerism” must be sought for elsewhere—
He begins to transform spaces—in Jealousy (2013) a simple walkway in a park becomes a transitional pathway from one instant in life to the next:
He appears to become “less” himself...
...and more the sum of his influences—heroes like F.W. Murnau and Jean-Marie Straub.
All four previous images give us characters perched on curves, all in the midst of a sweep of events: geometry turned into emotion.
But in only one of them are the characters actually in full control of the events!
But who is in control is constantly shifting—
In the Shadow of Women is perhaps Garrel’s first fully sustained film on relationships: gazing has ceased, the “other” no longer exists:
“For example, I studied silent films in the Cinematheque with Langlois, and the films that interested me were those that are based on relationships with women. It has nothing to do with a generational problem, it is about art history: there is a group of artists who pick up the paintbrush to have a privileged relationship with a woman.” —Garrel in conversation with Leos Carax, 1984
This is the key shift in this film—the realization of masculine gaze:
As opposed to:
Here is the discovery of In The Shadow Of Women, that to look, to gaze, to idealize—is to objectify:
Visual motifs still repeat themselves—
But now with different connotations—
Garrel almost appears to satirize masculine despair. In 2011 we were given this...
...in 2015, now this:
Even making the statuesque, Murnau-like posing of Stanislas Merhar's Pierre look comical:
But the earlier 2011 film, A Burning Hot Summer, also points to this development as well—firstly in the mad narcissistic despair of Louis Garrel’s painter:
But more precisely in Monica Bellucci’s assertion—
Described as a remake of Jean-Luc Godard’s Contempt by Garrel himself, there are certainly similarities:
And one shot in Contempt seems to prefigure Garrel’s cinema as a whole:
But A Burning Hot Summer bears much greater resemblance to a more recent film—
Indeed, entire sequences are quoted—
Bellucci’s character grows into Clotilde Courau's character, Manon, in In the Shadow of Women when she discusses infidelity:
And we burst into wide-shot, revealing that Bellucci and Céline Sallette are not fighting the gender politics of the 2000s but the gender politics which have existed for centuries.
In contrast, Louis's Frédéric wanders around Italian movie-sets:
A Burning Hot Summer is the first step towards In the Shadow of Women—
Louis/Frédéric's vision is not of a woman or even a person—it is simply an image. He dies because he cannot acknowledge Bellucci’s authenticity, the realization that the power he thought he had does not actually exist—
Resulting in this new film, a war of codifiers and words spoken and unspoken—
Equality as war:
Where did he first dream of this distanciation?
“Garrel is the last of the primitives – He has always liked The Wedding March (Stroheim, 1928) and Tabu (Murnau, 1931)” –Antoine Rakovsky
It does not take a scholar to note that the influence of the latter has been quite obvious, then and now—
But what of the former?
The Wedding March begins to take us into this direction, establishing a reflection on codified cinematic standards:
“You see magnificence, and the opposite is felt.” —Straub on Stroheim
Immediately preceding this shot, Pierre breaks up with the “third” in this relationship—Elizabeth (Lena Paugam):
Upon which she vanishes from the film entirely—
Fadir (Mounir Margoum), Manon’s lover, disappears even more swiftly—
But Elizabeth’s exclusion from the rest of the film is inexplicable: heretofore she had been established as one of the films most important characters—
The most “direct, emotional” of these characters, yet still stuck behind walls, sworn to secrecy—
The “onerism” Garrel speaks of initially only manifests in her character. First, heartbroken, she walks into a black void...
...shrouds herself in black in a photobooth...
...before sprawling herself across the frame, keeping the secret and holding in her pain—
Elizabeth suffers the most: her only crime is to be the third in a war between two—
Her doom is because she believes romance can exist triangularly...
...self-decieving while two people play each other like pawns—
Shots of Pierre and Manon mimic each other, but each being on a different side of the frame...
...based on who has “power” in the relationship within a given moment.
Only in the films final moments do they have equal position—
Note these patterns of light on the sidewalk. Rather than previous being shot by some of Garrel's previous cinematographers like William Lubachansky and Willy Kurant, this is Garrel’s first collaboration with the great Renato Berta, a master of natural light.
And, most notably, the regular director of photography of Jean-Marie Straub—
These patches of light appear only one other time in the film...
...Pierre and Elizabeth’s first meeting.
These are perhaps the only two moments each character is honest with each other.
This naturalism of light draws one to the most curious aspect of the film, a subplot about the French Resistance:
The Resistance fighter sits at the head of the table—
Note the lighting here—expressionist—contrasting the “naturalism” of the rest of the film:
The fighter tells vivid stories:
This revelation, coupled with the formal techniques used...
...encourage us to re-contextualize the moments where similar techniques are employed...
...and we come to realize that Garrel is now trying to find his “onerism” by rejecting formalism—
The film becomes structured on a series of motifs, actively avoiding the idea of beautifying.
Mirrors are quite literally everywhere...
...but no one seems to notice them—
The onerism finds form in everyday objects now turned expressive—
The swirling staircase:
The black shroud:
Hallways become secret corridors:
Bedrooms become secret forts:
Note how Garrel lingers on Pierre’s taking off his shoes, so no one can hear him—
As much a tale of infidelity as it is an examination of the codes of deception—
No wonder so much of the film returns constantly to this staircase!
Walking up these stairs, Manon acknowledges this sheet twice—
Through this acknowledgement, followed by this shot...
...we understand that Manon currently the is one in control, not Pierre, who believes he is king—
So he manipulates Manon into leaving Fadir...
...without leaving Elizabeth himself, because to leave Elizabeth would to be relinquish his own control.
This wrestling for dominance implodes: he is unable to reconcile his insecurity with a propensity for mind games...
...finally entering a black void himself, of his own masochistic narcissism...
...convincing himself he has control of Manon—when he does not:
This too explodes: they both wander through the streets of Paris as empty as in the films they watched about the Resistance—
Ending back on the staircase—
Reality crashes down—
Manon sleeps alone—
Pierre wanders forever—
...but all it takes for these two to fall in love again is a simple discovery—
And with the beauty of a D.W. Griffith pastoral scene, these two reunite in Berta’s patches of light—
But how is it this mere, tiny discovery which changes everything?
All that needed to disappear was the cloak—
Our Daily Bread is a column on not necessarily beautiful images, nor similar images, but images that when brought together interact in meaningful ways.