Director: Philippe Garrel
Cast: Èric Caravaca, Esther Garrel, Louise Chevillotte, Paul Toucang
Watch Lover for a Day online in the UK: MUBI
Few directors working in the 21st century use black and white cinematography as well as French New Wave descendent Philippe Garrel. Since 2005’s Regular Lovers, the film that brought him back into wider relevance in the world of auteur cinema, Garrel has shot four of his five features in monochrome. Its shimmering celluloid beauty is undeniable, but Garrel has spoken in the past about how the choice has as much to do with ease and budgets as anything else. Regardless, it’s hard to imagine Lover for a Day displayed any other way – and, fittingly, its plot deals only in shades of grey.
At just 76 minutes, Lover for a Day plays out like a brief fable, very much set in the real world yet kept at arm’s length by distancing techniques of which the ethereal nature of its black and white images is just one. Not for the first time, Garrel focuses on infidelity and doomed relationships. The film is about the gaps between people who are close to one another, the things that are told and withheld, and what purposes telling and withholding things have for each person involved.
When university lecturer Gilles (Caravaca) answers the door to the flat he’s already sharing with his lover and student, Ariane (Chevillotte), he soon finds himself sharing this small space with his daughter, Jeanne (Garrel), too. Jeanne’s pain at splitting from her boyfriend, Mateo (Toucang), and Ariane’s mismatched relationship with Gilles leave both young women conflicted and initially in conflict with one another. Gilles is often forced to take a backseat and it’s to the film’s benefit, because Garrel renders his two female leads with such quiet passion and grace that the concerns of Gilles become both petty and uninteresting to the viewer – and maybe that’s the point.
Lover for a Day becomes a new way for the director to prod at the themes he’s been over dozens of times before. But whereas Garrel’s past films took father-daughter relationships as conduits to understand the strange actions of adults through the innocent eyes of children, here we see the child and the recurring archetype of the Other Woman as peers and collaborators; the camera is drawn to Ariane and Jeanne, and we learn more about them through their close-ups and quiet moments than is ever revealed of Gilles.
Part of the pleasure of watching the film comes from feeling like you’ve rediscovered a lost work from the height of the New Wave. Whereas every other director involved with the movement has long since moved on or died, Philippe Garrel is holding out and still making small movies with small budgets about ordinary lives and relationships. It’s timeless in the best sense of the word.
Lover for a Day is currently unavailable on VOD in the UK.