L’enfant secret (1979), J’entends plus la guitare (1991), and Les Amants réguliers (2005) all made me want to kill myself, a feeling that, I’ve been assured by the Garrel faithful, is entirely to the point. They’re three of the most torturous moviegoing experiences I’ve had (if boredom was a continent without end, it would be a Garrel joint), but something’s kept me coming back to the writer/director’s filmography—if only as well-spaced opportunity presents—hoping to make a connection.
In the abstract, Le vent de la nuit (The Wind of the Night) is hardly different from these three other works, possessed of a similarly morose, mournful tone, featuring protagonists (a trio in this case) given to long-stare disaffection/aimlessness, its every detail (both acknowledged and implied) shellacked with the molasses-thick residue of the ’68 revolution and its fallout. It’s possible the presence of Catherine Deneuve (as the neurotic 50ish bourge Hélène) helped to ease me into the film’s rhythms, though there’s a raw, abrasive vitality to her performance that counteracts the Grande Dame iconography she’s traded on in later years.
Fellow House critic Dan Callahan remarked, after a screening of Desplechin’s Un conte de Noël, that he felt like he was watching “the Catherine Deneuve puppet,” and there’s something of a satirical reflection of that statement in the image of Hélène dressed to the crimson-sin nines and posed in front of Le vent de la nuit’s de facto fourth character, a red sports car belonging to the shock-treated former radical Serge (Daniel Duval). (Wo)man and machine practically merge into a singularly indivisible entity, but Garrel’s intent is more probe than punchline: coming so soon after Hélène’s botched suicide attempt (a stunning sequence built around simmering unspoken tensions and hastily implemented shards of glass), the sadness of the image—the palpable, irrepressible sense of regret (fashion cloaking fashion to the inhuman infinite)—hits hardest.
Hélène’s affair with struggling sculptor Paul (Xavier Beauvois) sets Garrel’s requiem in motion: their relationship is recent, but it’s already begun to stagnate due to the elder Hélène’s hang-ups (her methodical preparation of the trysting boudoir reaches an exceptionally resonant low-point when she casually sprays perfume on the pillows) and the younger Paul’s own directionless sense of self. In Serge, who he meets at an art opening in Italy, Paul finds a male mindfuck complement—on roadtrips to Naples and Berlin he picks his companion’s brain about the ’68 uprisings, even though the observations Serge offers are terse and/or facile, hinting at deeper pains unexpressed. Serge’s past is etched more concretely in throwaways: a silent visit to the grave of a deceased loved one; wide shots of that red sports car receding into various highway horizons; a tangential statement made about the beauty of unfinished Italian architecture—at moments the film summons up a spirit similar to Rossellini’s great marital melodrama Viaggio in Italia (1954), this time from a brooding-’n’-bristly alpha perspective.
Though Paul is the film’s ostensible lead, he exits the narrative at a premature point (in retrospect, a choice very befitting the character’s noncommittal nature). In effect, he’s a mere catalyst, the medium that brings together Hélène and Serge, relics of a generation gone to seed, though, by point of their introduction, they’re more than walking metaphors—flesh-and-blood all the way. A night of passion consecrated by a romantic flourish of strings and a hovering moon-over-Paris is prelude to the film’s devastating closing passage, of which, at this juncture, I can barely find words to describe. Music, and a declaration, will suffice: the John Cale piano composition—along with the piercing cut-to-black that it underscores—shall haunt me ’til the end-of-days.
Keith Uhlich is editor of The House Next Door.