Although writer-director Philippe Garrel has been making movies for more than four decades, it wasn't until 2005's Regular Lovers — a poetic, three-hour rumination on the student radical movement of the 1960s — that a Garrel film enjoyed a proper U.S. release. One of the leading figures of the post-New Wave generation of French filmmakers, Garrel's influence can be felt in the work of Arnaud Desplechin, André Téchiné and Olivier Assayas, among others.
Frontier of Dawn, Garrel's most recent movie, was something of a cause celebre at the 2008 Cannes Film Festival. Masterpiece or pretentious navel-gazing, the critics couldn't make up their minds, and Dawn seemed destined to suffer the same fate as most of Garrel's pre-Lovers work that never screened outside of Europe. Fortunately, the brave souls at IFC Films acquired American distribution rights, and Clevelanders will finally get the chance to see Garrel's delirious tale of l'amour fou this weekend.
Shot, like Regular Lovers, in shimmeringly gorgeous black and white by William Lubtchansky (Jacques Rivette's favorite cinematographer), Frontier of Dawn is a movie that defies concise or even rational analysis. The love triangle between François (Louis Garrel), Carole (Laura Smet, daughter of Nathalie Baye and Johnny Hallyday) and Eve (impressive newcomer Clémentine Poidatz) is complicated by the fact that Carole is, er, dead. When she begins appearing to François a year after committing suicide — in his dreams and as a spectral image in the mirror — her intentions are vague at first. After Carole makes it clear that she wants François to join her in the land of the dead, it naturally causes a strain on his relationship with Eve (they're planning to get married and start a family).
Garrel never really tells us whether Carole is truly a ghost, or simply a manifestation of Francois' unresolved feelings of guilt for having abandoned her. Ultimately, it doesn't matter. What counts are the glorious images (once again, Lubtchansky pays homage to the velvety textures and nicotine stained shadows of New-Wave touchstones like Jean Eustache's The Mother and the Whore and Jean-Luc Godard's Masculine Feminine), and Garrel's uncanny ability to capture the agonies and ecstasies of a love without boundaries. Even if it is from beyond the grave, l'amour fou has rarely been so nutty, or so seductive.