Having been recently canonized by some critics and auds for his May ’68-set slacker story “Regular Lovers,” helmer Philippe Garrel may now face excommunication by a goodly chunk of his erstwhile supporters for “Frontier of Dawn.” A risible slice of pretentious hokum, this love triangle plot with a supernatural angle peddles that covertly misogynist and sadistic old chestnut, that the hottest, most desirable women are self-harming loonies. In France, presence of ascending stars Louis Garrel and Laura Smet, and helmer’s rep, should help pic reap little coin, but frontiers offshore will be harder to conquer.
Pro photographer Francois (helmer’s son Louis, from “The Dreamers” and “Regular Lovers”) arrives at a Parisian apartment to snap rising thesp Carole (Smet, daughter of Nathalie Baye and Johnny Hallyday, recently seen in “Towards Zero”). Although Carole was just recently married to Ed (Eric Rulliat), he’s off in Hollywood all the time, so she and Francois begin a brazen affair — clearly she’s not so much of a star as to merit a paparazzi following.
Moody, disloyal and borderline alcoholic, but sexy and given to having fantasies about impending revolution (and therefore supposedly adorable and “smart” in mind of pic’s target aud), Carole is clearly a merde-load of trouble. But Francois grows infatuated with her, even though he’s too shallow to do anything but laugh off with embarrassment her questions about whether he’d still love her if she went mad.
When Ed comes back from abroad for a while, Carole and Francois backburner their affair, but as soon as hubby is off again she writes her lover letters pleading for him to return. He sensibly ignores them, but when Carole lands in a mental asylum, he’s kind enough to visit her and make a half-hearted, failed effort to help her escape.
Garrel’s stated aim to keep tenor of thesping all-round low-key backfires when Francois seems hardly more bothered about Carole’s committing suicide than he would over his team losing a crucial soccer match. Within a year, he’s bounced back and about to get married and start a family with pretty, stable, but not-too-nice girl Eve (newcomer Clementine Poidatz). Mind you, he’s still a bit of a jerk — his first reaction on hearing Eve is pregnant is to tell her to get an abortion.
Just when pic appears to have settled for being just banal and tedious, it gets silly. Carole starts appearing in Francois’ dreams and mirrors (her entrance is heralded at one point by a clang of doom that would have suited a 1930s horror pic), asking him to join her in the land of the dead. A sensible friend (Cedric Vieira) tries to persuade him it’s just his subconscious sense of guilt producing hallucinations, but the stupid twit is tempted to rejoin his demon lover.
Cast is actually alright, despite handicap of helmer’s call for too much underplaying, with Louis, prettier even than his co-stars, proving a charismatic presence, despite the fact that the character is such a schmuck. Smet, whose own recent stint in rehab gives resonance to her breakdown here, almost persuades that her Carole isn’t a completely self-centered bitch, although considerable realism is lost by fact that even in the darkest hour of her night, her mascara remains immaculately applied. Gamine Poidatz holds up her end just fine.
Also in pic’s favor is fact that it’s not as drawn out or quite as pretentious as “Regular Lovers,” but that’s not saying much. Garrel’s homage to Jean Cocteau and Georges Franju via old-fashioned special effects in the spooky bits comes off as just cack-handed, and actually reaped hearty guffaws from the Cannes press aud on its first projection. (Lusty boos accompanied the closing credits.)
In other hands, story set-up might have had something more resonant to say about how the siren call of insanity blights relationships. But no, here, once again, the straight male desire to punish women for exercising the power of their sexual appeal rears its ugly head, along with a childish attitude that sees commitment and family life as “bourgeois” and therefore bad.
Monochrome lensing by William Lubtchansky apes New Wave grain and contrast, and looks nice the same way ads for men’s aftershave can look good. For the record, pic’s French title was translated on screen as “The Dawn Shore,” not “Frontier of Dawn,” the latter being pic’s English title in all its accompanying publicity material and the Cannes catalog.