Les amants réguliers / Regular Lovers (2005)

12 04 2023

“Just wait. Things may change.” “They won’t change.” There are many refrains in Les amants réguliers that threaten to synthesize the film’s 183 minutes of ideas into one line of dialogue. I wanted to resist buying into the impulse of picking one of these refrains as the film’s massive canvas alone suggests the enormous density of its pull. This is an enormous film. In its length, obviously, but more importantly in its approach. Garrel’s lack of concision could strike some a detriment, but the enormity of his texts give us space and time to be introduced to the specifically human phenomenons that his films depict. The film is structured by an initial idealism, then comes the disillusionment, and finally the disheartening takes from. We need time with these moments to punctuate their power as lived experiences. Despite being a film depicting 20 year olds, it perhaps take someone older to appreciate the processes that everyone, but specifically its titular lovers, François and Lilie, endure.

“I was given a molotov cocktail. All I had to do with throw it” This is what François tells us within the film’s first fifteen minutes. The ostensible protagonist is introduced to us an idealistic poet, a true romantic if there ever was one. His circumstances have offered him a swelling sense of purpose. It’s 1968 in Paris and revolutionary fervor is high. François doesn’t make a living, but he does make poetry and his well-off would-be comrade Antoine can house him in his opulent mansion. The initial enthusiasm of the uprising fizzles out, the revolutionary pre-tense of gathering gives way to parties at said mansion. During one such party, François meets and falls for Lilie. Lilie is a sculptor, which gives the couple a shared artistic vision, but her work is physical, tactile, and more importantly Lilie also has to work to make a living. The two fall in love, and although they’re both in their early twenties the enormity of their feelings for one another is authentic. We believe François when he says he loves Lilie. We believe Lilie when she says she loves François. As it tends to be in Philippe Garrel’s world, the relationship does not work out.

I very distinctly remember sitting in a bar with my friend the day after the 2016 election. At the end, it seemed like a epoch-level event and our presence in a Lower Manhattan protest earlier in the evening felt like us living up to the moment. It felt important, and more importantly justified and right. Protests proliferated during the fallout of the election. It seemed that every protest eventually concluded with someone admitting their exhaustion and suggesting the inevitable nightcap. Many of people I met at these protests became friends, and eventually the social impulse got to the point where the protest was deemed superfluous. The chants were skipped in lieu of the pints and socializing which was the thing everyone had genuinely craved in the first place. All this seems quaint and silly to me in 2023. That year’s election weighs little in my brain these days, as far more personally upsetting events have since taken place. But this recent rewatch of Regular Lovers resurrected those feelings. The initial revolutionary impulse (no matter how pathetic it seems now), the disillusionment that follows, and the burnout into unrestricted Bohemia. The power of Garrel’s film is that his nostalgia plays the part for one’s own. Perhaps we all have our own May 1968.

There is, of course, a collective cultural nostalgia for May 1968. Perhaps it was the first modern revolution, and perhaps it was the last to happen in a specific time and place, whereas all contemporary “uprising” are prone to postmodernism’s globally homogenized numb. Paris in May ’68 immediately conures up something romantic – even to those of us who weren’t even alive at the time. Garrel’s depiction of it, though, is tellingly a-romantic. The “revolutionary fervor” section that opens the film is not one where we are caught up in the middle of the unrest with our protagonist. Instead, we observe from a distance. These scenes resemble newsreel footage without the contextualizing force of a newscaster’s narration. The sequence goes on and on, uneventfully, which is enough to offer the more skeptical viewer the pretense of ridiculing Garrel’s vision of being bloated and overdrawn. There are those of us, though, who find this approach captivating. The “glacial” pace lends the romance that follows an incomparable sense of authenticity.

The romance of François and Lilie is the film’s most salient point. Their first meeting, the courting, the hours spent laying in bed post-coitus — these are the things that happen naturally in Garrel’s vast canvas. They don’t feel like the reason for the text’s existence in the first place, but a spontaneous sensation that crops within a near docudrama fashion. This further emphasizes the delicate balance of melancholy and naturalism that the film achieves. One feels something enormous in a film that is mostly a collection of “small” moments. Love is something that is just as beautiful as it is painful. There are million of films about being in love, but there are very few fictional romances that feel as authentic and lived-in as the one depicted in Regular Lovers.




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