Although Philippe Garrel’s “Jealousy” doesn’t stretch the Gallic helmer’s thematic canvas much beyond his usual preoccupations — lovesick Parisians, la vie boheme and his lushly tousle-headed son, actor Louis Garrel — there are a few new tints on the palette that brighten this slight but watchable black-and-white pic. More tightly scripted than Garrel’s usual rambles, the comedy-drama also has an unexpected emotional warmth, thanks partly to a cute if slightly sentimental subplot about a father and daughter, fetchingly thesped by Louis Garrel and Olga Milshtein. It’s also blessedly brief at 76 minutes, which will only enhance its exportability.
In the opening minutes, Louis (Louis Garrel, in his fourth collaboration with his director dad) bails on his relationship with Clothilde (Rebecca Convenant), leaving her to raise their 8-year-old daughter, Charlotte (Milshtein, adorable), so he can shack up with clearly-nothing-but-trouble Claudia (the always compelling contralto-voiced Anna Mouglalis). Claudia is also, like Louis, an actor, although her career is more theoretical at the moment as she hasn’t worked in several years.
Although Louis protests to Clothilde that he’s not earning anything from his latest play, somehow the two of them appear to have enough money to afford a romantically seedy garret apartment. Louis flirts with a fellow cast member (Manon Kneuse) at the theater, but resists sharing anything more than a kiss with her. Claudia, however, has far fewer scruples about infidelity, adopting what some might consider to be a stereotypically French attitude that it doesn’t count if you don’t tell. As she tells one pickup at a bar (Julien Lucas), she likes secrets.
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It’s a line echoed elsewhere by Charlotte, in a particularly delicately handled scene in which Clothilde quizzes her daughter about her first meeting with Claudia; Convenant projects with minute subtlety a mother’s almost-convincing attempt to appear jolly to her child while dying on the inside with grief and jealousy. The script by Garrel and regular collaborators Caroline Deruas, Arlette Langmann and Marc Cholodenko sprinkles in a fair few graceful parallelisms like this throughout, and yet the ensemble infuses the dialogue with a spontaneous breeziness, like they’re making it all up on the spot.
That loosey-goosey shambolic quality is Garrel’s schtick, and according to taste, it can seem charming in a new New Wave sort of way, particularly for vocal fans of his 2005 effort “Regular Lovers,” or infuriatingly self-indulgent (as it was in 2011’s hot mess “A Burning Hot Summer”). Somehow the effect is more endearing here, partly due to the pic’s brevity, and partly due to the novel-for-a-Garrel-movie likability of at least some of the characters on display, particularly Charlotte and Louis’ wry little sister, Esther (played by the thesp’s own sister, Esther Garrel). It’s almost enough to make one forgive all the name-dropping about Mayakovsky, whose life is a fetish for the pretentious, resolutely obnoxious Claudia. The casting of more Garrel family members enhances the subtext that the pic, per press notes, is a film a clef reworking of what happened when Maurice, Philippe’s father (and therefore Louis and Esther’s grandfather), left his mother for another woman, with Charlotte standing in for the young Philippe.
Refined widescreen monochrome lensing by venerable veteran Willy Kurant, who shot Godard’s “Masculine Feminine” back in 1966, adds classy luster. Jean-Louis Aubert’s tinkling, dippy score is less of an asset.