The opening shot in Jealousy (La Jalousie) is striking in its power and minimalism. Clothilde (Rebecca Convenant), staring slightly off camera, struggles between smiling and crying. It’s a brilliant moment that shows a profound range of emotions washing over her, as she oscillates from sadness to deep pensiveness to a look that almost seems like acceptance before a fade to black. The powerful shot sets the scene for the film, which does not rely on flashy flourishes but rather the stillness of the camera capturing human emotions as they unfold. Jealousy tells the story of serious, sensitive, struggling actor Louis (played by Louis Garrel, the director’s son), who early in the film ends a relationship with Clothilde, the mother of his child, also a former actress. He has moved on to a new relationship with Claudia (Anna Mouglalis), who is also a struggling actress, as she hasn’t landed a role in over six years. The couple’s daughter Charlotte (Olga Milshtein) is also deeply affected. We meet her through a beautiful shot, as she watches her parents break up through a keyhole in her door. She certainly can feel something has upended their world, but she cannot understand it.
While on the surface the story of Jealousy can be succinctly summarized: a man breaks up with the mother of his child for another woman who in turn leaves him for another (wealthier) man, the layers of narrative make this film a deep psychological portrait of relationships. It goes beyond the romantic bond between the partners. Director Philippe Garrel is in his finest, most subtle form in years. He presents several scenes with Louis and his daughter in these small moments that create depth and intimacy in a relationship. Seemingly — at least by the Hollywood standards of action-driven narrative — not much happens, yet we are able to gain an understanding of who these people are and what motivates them because of the director’s delicate hand.
Though the film is titled Jealousy, the theme seems to be more about what binds people together and the complex ties interwoven in a mosaic of people coming in and out of one another’s lives. In one of the scenes, Louis, who grew up without his father, is approached by a woman who tells him she loved his father. In another montage, Claudia washes the feet of an old writer whom she befriended because she liked his work so much. These vignettes might be confusing or out-of-place, but in Garrel’s subtle narrative they connect us to the characters and create an atmosphere that feels so familiar it allows us easy empathy for these people.
A standout character is little Charlotte, who moves the story along with her straightforward yet delightfully sweet tone. The character is partially based on director’s own experience as a child. For instance, in one of the scenes Charlotte talks to her mom about the lovely day she spent with her dad and his new girlfriend. The scene plays out as she starts to divulge the fun afternoon and then tries to take it back as she notices her mom’s reaction. In an interview with Film Comment Garrel admitted that the episode happened to him, and he remembered feeling guilty about it. That is just one of the ways in which this film is so personal, yet the performance by Covenant makes it very light with a performance that feels genuine.
A study on relationships, Jealousy feels both abstract and quite personal. Shot in black and white, the film showcases the many shades of gray within the personal. The acting is at times subtle but clearly depicts the high and low points of flawed relationships with earnest affection by a director who has returned in full effect. The choice of black and white, Garrel said in the interview, comes from his love of silent cinema: “I’ve made silent movies, I love silent films. They’ve left their mark on me.” When it comes to acting, one can see that he pays painstaking attention to the technical details. The mise-en-scène is one of the main achievements of this film. Also, the film was shot in real anamorphic scope, 35mm. Garrel also specified “for certain close-ups I use special lenses, designed to shoot from very close, which allow faces an incredible expressivity.” A beautiful film indeed, and one that will leave a lasting impression for sure.
Jealousy has a run time of 77 minutes, is in French with English subtitles and is not rated. The film opens in the South Florida area today, Friday, Sept. 5 at the Tower Theater in Miami, the Miami Beach Cinematheque and in Coral Gables at the Bill Cosford Cinema (all theater names are hotlinks to screening times and dates). The Tower Theater provided an on-line screener for the purpose of this review.