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Philippe Garrel The Salt of Tears Review

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The Salt of Tears | Review

The Salt of Tears | Review

Love Means Never Having to Say: Garrel Continues Exploration of Love and Lust

Philippe Garrel The Salt of Tears Review“Love ain’t nothin’ but sex misspelled,” Harlon Ellison astutely wrote, for too often is the former used as a ruse to obtain the latter. Perennial French auteur Philippe Garrel completes a thematic trilogy of sorts with his latest, The Salt of Tears, a poetic title which suggests once the emotions have evaporated, all we’re left with is the cynical reality of a situation.

Reuniting with his regular scribes Jean-Claude Carriere and Arlette Langmann, his latest, on the surface, is as archaic a narrative as one might expect from an aged director still obsessed with the exploring the troubled communication between nubile young women and the various men who use them. Except, Garrel seems to be, more than ever, crafting a parody of French cinematic tendencies whilst satirizing our continued conundrum of reality vs. our conditioned expectations of what love’s supposed to look and feel like. Perversely funny, and maybe even unintentionally so, his latest continues to find itself fascinated by the supreme obliviousness and repellant selfishness of (for the most part in his filmography, white/middle class) men.

Luc (Logann Antuofermo) has arrived in Paris to take an entry exam for the Boulle school, a renowned furniture-making university with which he will learn the trade of cabinetmaking to follow in his father’s (Andre Wilms) footsteps. He meets Djemila (Oulaya Amamra) at a bus stop asking for directions and he can sense her interest in him. They embark on a whirlwind romance and as Luc returns home, Djemila is unabashedly smitten and mourns his farewell. Back at home, a chance meeting with Genevieve (Louise Chevillotte) sparks a sexually charged reunion—it seems she has never forgotten about Luc. She can sense he may be distracted by someone he met while in Paris, which leads her to aggressively question him. When he’s accepted into the university, Genevieve confesses she’s pregnant, fostering an immediate falling out. Weeks later, Luc begins to have feelings for Betsy (Souheila Yacoub), a nurse who works near his school. But Betsy finagles a scenario where she can have both Luc and her old flame Paco (Martin Mesnier) at the same time.

Between In the Shadow of Women (wherein a documentarian desires to carry on a relationship with two women), Lover for a Day (where a daughter is unamused at her father’s relationship with a girl her own age) and now The Salt of Tears, Garrel seems fascinated in exploring the supreme selfishness of men who aren’t ever really led to self-reflection despite various pratfalls—in essence, these are all about the oft in innate imbalance in relationships, which is perhaps why he has continued to film in crisp black and white, a metaphor suggesting there’s really no gray area between men and women and the reality of their expected roles. This latest work also feels like the inverse of his son Louis Garrel’s last directorial effort, A Faithful Man (2018), penned by Carriere as well (not to mention, all three of these black and white titles were lensed by Renato Berta).

Newcomer Logann Antuofermo is quite authentic in his portrayal of Luc as a through and through cad, a young man, who is in all fairness, is still trying to grasp what it is he really wants. Clearly, he learned how to manipulate women easily and efficiently, but he’s also learned to lie through his teeth to serve his needs. Perhaps this is subconscious, as we learn his entry in Boulle and his chosen profession as a cabinetmaker are really the desires of his father, a man who has raised Luc by himself. As the first victim of his cowardice, Oulaya Amamra (Divines; Farewell to the Night) is quite touching in her giddy love for Luc, who can’t quite seem to communicate his true feelings to her. As his school-girl crush Louise Chevillotte (Lover for a Day; Synonyms) is frustratingly clingy, her body constantly on display. Only Souheila Yacoub’s (Climax) Betsy has any real sort of agency, which is perhaps what Luc is attracted to—she doesn’t defer to him or express a desire to serve him. Compared to the others, she’s emotionally aloof, and therefore a challenge. Garrel takes pains to showcase a bunch of random happenings in Luc’s love odyssey, including a brief moment of racially motivated violence, its inclusion of which seems to frame Luc’s privileged and limited understanding of the world—or else to showcase how Garrel may be suggesting little has changed between heterosexual gender roles but the virulence of nationalism is more aggressively evident than the Nouvelle Vague parameters of his narrative.

The Salt of Tears, is, at times, uncomfortably voyeuristic, particularly because of Garrel’s insistence on lingering on the naked bodies of both Chevillote and Yacoub (Amamra is the only one of Luc’s lovers who does not appear nude, which may perhaps be because it’s unclear if their affair is ever completely consummated, based on her rejection of his sexual advances—but this also suggests women playing characters who engage in casual sex are then logically also supposed to have nude scenes). And the more time spent with Luc, the more completely unlikeable he becomes, not only for his treatment of women but also his father (a warm and likeable Andre Wilms, of Kaurismaki’s 2011 Le Havre). An omniscient narrator intervenes at times to explain some of Luc’s feelings—which helps to enlighten the audience on his character but often makes him seem even worse. However, it’s clear Luc is a man who has never really experienced love, which explains his treatment of women. But even Betsy, presented as woman who is Luc’s equal, does not suggest either of them actually love one another but is merely, at last, a woman as invested in procuring her own pleasure as he is for himself. Ultimately, Garrel is committed to the sentiment “it’s a man’s world.”

Reviewed on February 22nd at the Berlin International Film Festival – In Competition, Forum programme. 100 Mins.

★★★/☆☆☆☆☆

Los Angeles based Nicholas Bell is IONCINEMA.com's Chief Film Critic and covers film festivals such as Sundance, Berlin, Cannes and TIFF. He is part of the critic groups on Rotten Tomatoes, The Los Angeles Film Critics Association (LAFCA), FIPRESCI, the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and GALECA. His top 3 for 2023: The Beast (Bonello) Poor Things (Lanthimos), Master Gardener (Schrader). He was a jury member at the 2019 Cleveland International Film Festival.

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