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Venice 2011. Those Who Burn Within

Philippe Garrel's new film, in competition at Venice, miscasts its two leads but features a turn by a French actress that cannot be missed.
Un été brûlant

In the rare instances I’m not for a Philippe Garrel film, I don’t not like the Philippe Garrel film—it’s that I don’t feel it as strongly as I should.  He is a unique filmmaker in this regard; he photographs emotions, delicate tenors, trembling moments, people walking on precipices, singular, stunning happinesses and spiritual dejection of an utterly unique kind.  And all are fragile, very fragile—the slightest push can knock a film like Un été brûlant into collapse.  This is the risk, so powerful when gambled and won, that is undertaken by earnestness and a certain, highly personal and sensitive belief in what cinema can express.

For this film, it is miscast; the central couple played by Monica Bellucci and Louis Garrel, the latter of which who was used so well in his father’s Regular Lovers, have faces here devoid of expression, sinking their bourgeois, empty lives by a complete absence of soulfulness that can embue moving images with thought and feeling.  This wouldn’t flounder the film so if they didn’t have a triumph with which to be contrasted: another couple, magnificently played by Jérôme Robart and most especially Céline Sallette, who was so great in Bonnello’s House of Tolerance in Cannes.  Robart's subtly haggard quietness has its own poignancy, but it is Sallette who contains an entire story and life lived in her smiling, sad eyes.  One scene reveals all: the camera holds on Sallette looking at Garrel and Robart off-screen, her eyes dancing mournfully, thinking, we see her thinking about them, then herself, then another time, and then back to them; Bellucci sits down next to her after several quiet moments and that actress’ eyes are black holes.  It is as if the film was comparing a soul with a mannequin.

Yet that's not the film Un été brûlant wants to be; it’s about friendship and what happens when two couples at different stages of their lives and relationships share the same space and overlapping but individual concerns and needs.  Only, one half of this film is vacant, and the conflicts of the scenario are left to our imagination—which can only be lit by an actor like Sallette, who can fill out any phrase left unsaid or scene unfilmed.  The rest seems pretense, hanging the unexpressive on a shell of a script and a style that is indeed nothing but expressive, and the incongruity brings the work crashing down. Only when looking into the past, as in the inclusion of a scene of filmmaking on the Resistance, or looking into Sallette’s eyes, or those of Maurice Garrel, who movingly shows up as a photograph and then as a ghost in the film, does one see the ache that burns within the best of Garrel’s cinema.  Those moments without that ache are like that which the characters in the film suicidally fear the most: they are a void.

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