Philippe Garrel: Definitions of Love

JULY 12-30


6:00pm - Reception
7:00pm - Lover for a Day introduced by Thierry Garrel
8:45pm - Emergency Kisses

“The proverbial underrated genius. He’s the closest thing to a poet functioning today in French cinema.”


“As close as teeth are to lips to the idea of natural beauty.”

“The child of Cocteau and Godard.”

Regarded in his native France as one of the most indispensable filmmakers of the post-New Wave generation, Philippe Garrel has, over the past 50 years, created an extraordinary body of impassioned, immensely personal work that has gone virtually unseen in North America.

Born to French screen actor (and future collaborator) Maurice Garrel in the Paris suburb of Boulogne-Billancourt in 1948, Philippe Garrel took to the seventh art at a preternaturally young age. Intoxicated by the contemporaneous nouvelle vague — especially the films of Jean-Luc Godard, whose brand of introspective cinema the auteur would one day inherit — Garrel wrote and directed his first film in 1964 at just 16, with a quick succession of works to follow. (His 1967 feature Marie pour mémoire was seen and praised by none other than Godard, an endorsement of earthshaking import for the teen wunderkind.)

“One of the last genuine romantics (and Romantics) of French cinema.”

Two key events would play a pivotal role in Garrel’s life and, in turn, form the nucleus of his life-mirroring art for decades to come: the failed revolution of May 1968; and his on- and off-screen relationship with Velvet Underground chanteuse Nico, his lover and collaborator for 10 years. Those twin poles guided his experimental, fringe filmmaking through the late 1960s and most of the 1970s, a period of drug-fuelled art production (sometimes under the aegis of the leftist film collective Zanzibar Group) that birthed strange, mythopoetic works starring Nico, Garrel, and other boho scenesters. Then, beginning with 1979’s L’enfant secret and his separation from the German songstress — with whom he shared a serious heroin addiction, detailed in the film — Garrel reinvented himself as a director of austere, muted melodramas. This phase, still extant today, represents the best-known Garrel, for whom a fervent fan-base formed and international reputation emerged.

“The world’s greatest working filmmaker ... Philippe Garrel has created a body of work that stands as a reproach to how stunted and self conscious most cinema still is.”

Unabashedly autobiographical, often shot in anachronistic black-and-white, and very much imbued with the ethos of the nouvelle vague — whose artisans the director has made a habit of recruiting, Anne Wiazemsky, Jean-Pierre Léaud, and cinematographer Raoul Coutard among them — the latter-day films of Garrel are a constellation of ongoing, interconnected episodes that tackle the boundless dimensions (and contradictions) of love from a nakedly first-person point of view. They are, in the truest sense, “family” films, set in everyday domestic spaces and featuring a rotating troupe of intergenerational kinfolk —father Maurice, son Louis, daughter Esther, onetime wife Brigitte Sy, current wife Caroline Deruas — portraying either versions of themselves, as in 1989’s Emergency Kisses, or avatars of others, as in 2005’s Regular Lovers, the start of Louis’s tenure as his father’s onscreen alter-ego.

“It’s hard to imagine a filmmaker more deserving of major reconsideration by serious students and enthusiasts of film art. So, let’s all be reasonable and demand the impossible: Garrel now!”

On the heels of major career surveys in New York and Toronto, The Cinematheque presents a select retrospective of Philippe Garrel’s sublime, scandalously underseen cinema. Many of these films have never played Vancouver before; two of the director’s pinnacle avant-garde works, The Virgin’s Bed and The Inner Scar, will screen from newly struck 35mm prints. Alongside the essentials, the series includes the recently unearthed Actua 1, Garrel’s in-the-thick reportage of the May 1968 riots, as well as the Vancouver premiere of his superb new film Lover for a Day, his first to feature daughter Esther (Call Me by Your Name) in a principal role.


Acknowledgements: For their assistance in making this retrospective possible, The Cinematheque is grateful to Jacob Perlin, The Film Desk; Amélie Garin-Davet, French Embassy and Cultural Services in New York; Anne-Catherine Louvet, Institut Français; Etienne Farreyre, Consulate General of France in Vancouver; and Thierry Garrel.

Opening Night will feature complimentary wine and cheese generously provided by the Consulate General of France in Vancouver.


Click for film notes + showtimes

Recent Showings

VANCOUVER PREMIERE! Philippe Garrel’s exquisite new work is another lyrical, deceptively low-key examination of love, jealousy, and betrayal.
Garrel’s 1989 meta-masterpiece finds the French cinéaste at perhaps his most self-referential and revelatory.
New Wave icon Jean-Pierre Léaud and ’70s arthouse thesp Lou Castel share top billing in this minutely focused study of midlife stagnation.
Garrel’s enigmatic, elliptical avant-garde opus, a delirious retelling of the Christ story, was shot without a script and under the influence of LSD.
The chief collaboration between then-lovers Philippe Garrel and Nico is a transfixing fever-dream hallucination of the finest, freakiest vintage.
Casualties of the heart weigh heavy in Garrel’s poignant, deeply felt political noir. Preceded by Rue Fontaine, a short film starring Jean-Pierre Léaud.
The films of Philippe Garrel mutated from abstract, underground experiments to full-fledged narrative features with 1979’s remarkable L’enfant secret.
Garrel's understated, achingly intimate ciné-memoir feels like a towering summation of the director's signature obsessions. Preceded by Actua 1.
This profoundly personal, self-immolating film à clef was made in response to the sudden death of Nico, Garrel’s romantic and creative partner for 10 years.