This review was updated on September 15, 2005.
Gallic helmer Philippe Garrel’s latest homage to the New Wave, “Regular Lovers,” stars the helmer’s son, Louis Garrel, as a Parisian student revolutionary not dissimilar to the one he played in “The Dreamers,” but this time with a passion for poetry instead of cinema. In a thin smear of plot stretched across three hours, hero and friends throw bombs, and get laid and stoned a lot in May ’68 and after. Ravishing B&W lensing by veteran William Lubtchanski (“Shoah”) and Garrel’s no-fi approach to narrative should appeal to some highbrow auds with pretentious taste in Euro territories and major U.S. burgs.
Pic starts promisingly enough with a hypnotic, almost dialogue-free sequence showing 20-year-old Francois (Louis Garrel) and his buddies taking on riot police with makeshift barricades and Molotov cocktails on the streets of Paris as the events of May 1968 kick off. Although later there’s vague talk of Maoism and overthrowing the state, script by Philippe Garrel, Marc Cholodenko and Arlette Langmann suggests these kids are more caught up in the spirit of the times than motivated by deep principles.
At a party, Francois hooks up with long-haired Lilie (Clotilde Hesme, promising), an art student, and the two begin a laidback romance. Although they both profess to friends that they love one another, this being the ’60s, Francois forces himself to tolerate Lilie having sex with another man.
Meanwhile, Francois starts hanging out more at the crash pad of Antoine (Julien Lucas), an opium smoker who freely admits he’s less concerned about fomenting revolution because he already has plenty of money. Francois makes occasional forays into the outer world, at one point to court when he’s arrested for dodging his national service stint.
Pic succeeds best in delineating druggie scenes, although this is territory Garrel has covered often before, particularly in “Wild Innocence,” his previous pic. And despite minimal use of period trappings (all of the clothes look like they could have been bought today), “Regular Lovers” evokes the ’60s pretty well just through dialogue and rhythm — better, in fact, than Bernardo Bertolucci’s more reverently detailed “The Dreamers.”
However, the film’s slow tempo induces the feeling one is living through the whole of 1968 in one sitting. Garel’s direction hasn’t got any of the finesse of his obvious exemplar here, Jean Eustache, whose similarly themed, three-and-a-half-hour 1973 yakfest “The Mother and the Whore” still looks fresh today.
Apart from Lubtchanski’s splendid monochrome cinematography in Academy ratio, the tech package is just average. Music is used sparingly, which makes a tune by the helmer’s late wife Nico stand out all the more.