Film Review: Philippe Garrel’s “Jealousy” — The Poignant Return of the Nouvelle Vague

Jealousy is a misleading title for this touching movie, as the characters are less jealous than forlorn when those they love move on to other loves.

Boston Area Film Schedules – What is playing today, Where and When

Jealousy, directed by Philippe Garrel. At the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Barbara and Theodore Alfond Auditorium (Auditorium G36), Boston, MA, opens tomorrow through September 27.

Louis Garrel and Anna Mouglalis in "Jealousy."

Louis Garrel and Anna Mouglalis in “Jealousy.”

By Gerald Peary

He really turned prolific in the 1970s rather than the 1960s, making a series of features starring his then-girlfriend, the Velvet Underground’s chanteuse, Nico. But Philippe Garrel feels today like the last regularly working director of the original French New Wave. His moody, intense films about rocky love relationships share a kinship with Godard and Rivette and the early works of Agnes Varda. At age 65, he’s back with the Nouvelle Vague again with Jealousy, a poignant film in black-and-white shot authoritatively by Willy Kurant, 79, cinematographer for Godard’s 1966 black-and-white classic, Masculine/Feminine.

Louis (Louis Garrel) is a young man trying to be an actor, and he walks out on his live-in girlfriend, Clothilde (Rebecca Covenant), who works in an office. His new amour, the glamorous Claudia (Anna Mouglalis), also wants a career in the theatre. Louis has a child by Clothilde named Charlotte (Olga Milshtein) and also a younger sister, Esther (Esther Garrel). As often with Gallic art house fare, there’s practically no backstory. What we know of the characters is what we see unspool on screen, plus the scraps several offer about their pasts. The father of Louis and Esther died when both were young children, and Louis especially misses him. Claudia claims to have been truly crazy as a 19-year-old. That’s it.

Filming with his love, Nico, set Philippe Garrel on a lifetime of making movies with those closest to him. Earlier, he often cast his actor father, Maurice Garrel. In recent years, he’s featured his son, Louis, and now, with Jealousy, Louis is teamed with Philipe’s real-life daughter, Esther, as brother and sister. No problem with these siblings on screen: both are movie-star gorgeous, and Louis, with his hawk nose, dark eyes, and fantastic mop of hair is a major actor in France for other filmmakers, including Bernardo Bertolucci for The Dreamers (2003).

Jealousy is a misleading title for this movie, as the characters are less jealous than forlorn when those they love move on to other loves. The film begins in tears, as Clothilde breaks down, begging Louis not to leave her. The film has more tears, when Louis becomes the one in anguish as Claudia threatens to exit. Only Claudia has a real jealousy fit, a paranoid one, racing across Paris because she feels in her bones that Louis is cheating on her. He’s not.

Clothilde is a simple soul, a nice mother who, for a time at least, wants her roving boyfriend back. Unlike every other adult in Jealousy, she has no artistic aspirations. Louis is also pretty straightforward. A chick-magnate with his great looks, he’s tempted often (a kiss with an actress in his play, holding hands with a female stranger in a movie house) but then he’s determinately faithful to Claudia, the woman he left his girlfriend to be with. Louis doesn’t have much to say, except in the affectionate scenes when he’s in conversation with his radiant, precocious daughter. Young Olga Milshtein: what a find by director Garrel! I think of Maisie of Henry James’s What Maisie Knew.

The one complicated character is Claudia, an actress who, blocked, hasn’t acted for years. Her authentic self? Sick of bohemianism, she craves material comforts more than the shaky thespian life. Unlike the easily placated Louis, she goes crazy in their squat attic garret, bed on the floor. And she’s a compulsive cheat. And moody and self-hating. But oh, actress Mouglalis’s self-consciously husky, feline voice! The New Wave again: she seems to be channeling Jeanne Moreau in François Truffaut’s Jules and Jim.

Gerald Peary is a professor at Suffolk University, Boston, curator of the Boston University Cinematheque, and the general editor of the “Conversations with Filmmakers” series from the University Press of Mississippi. A critic for the late Boston Phoenix, he is the author of 9 books on cinema, writer-director of the documentary For the Love of Movies: the Story of American Film Criticism, and a featured actor in the 2013 independent narrative Computer Chess

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