(02/11/06) – Made in response to Bernardo Bertolucci’s The Dreamers (2003), the lovefest set against the history-defining Paris student riots of May 1968, Regular Lovers is a counterpoint to Bertolucci’s film in more ways than one. Director Philippe Garrel, who based the film on his own memories of the period, uses his son, Louis Garrel, in the lead part, who had also starred in Bertolucci’s film. Besides that, there is a verbal mention to Bertolucci’s 1964 film Before the Revolution. Garrel also bought the costumes from Bertolucci’s production. But Regular Lovers surpasses the text that inspired it and from which it was almost literally confected from.
It is a beautiful, tender, elegiac black and white homage to the ideals of the generation of 1968 that took to the streets in the spring of that fateful year in search for sexual, social and cultural liberation, trying to break away from the norms of the ancient regime. Like in some Novelle Vague films to which this film is also a love poem to, Garrel overlaps utopian and ideological musings over close-ups and caresses exchanged by two lovers, juxtaposing the public and the private, possibly as a metaphor of the ‘personal is political’ adage.
François (Garrel) is an image of the modern day poet maudit, broody and sweet, his head laden with romantic ideas and black curls. He joins a group of revolutionaries who spend their nights overturning cars and hurling Molotov cocktails at riot police. It’s in this milieu that he meets sculpture student Lilie (Clothilde Hesme). But these conflict sequences occupy only the initial section of the film; Garrel is interested in what happens when the strikes are negotiated and the characters’s lives have to return to normalcy. Can they? The film justifiably slows down after the battle overture, for which the set design is appropriately stagey and artificial, enhancing the metaphysical aspects of the historical moment. The couple are sheltered by a rich and handsome trustafarian called Antoine, a good-natured and generous opium smoker who allows the couple and some other friends chill out in his opulent pad while the dust settles outside.
Although the length of the film may be trying for some (it runs to 178 minutes), it is a necessity in order to register the gradual changes and readjustments that the couple have to make as they confront reality. The black and white photography is always stunning and between the sharp whites and the black shadows there is always plenty to behold. It is not exactly a masterpiece but its poetic tenderness and hankering after the Novelle Vague project makes Regular Lovers stand out from the often oxygen-free, bourgeois background of contemporary French cinema and reminds us of how great it once was.
The DVD of Regular Lovers is out now and it includes the press conference with the directors and the film’s stars in Venice 2005. Please follow the links provided to buy a copy and help support Kamera by doing so.