Jealousy, a 77-minute brisk waltz through a series of relationships (always ending, never beginning), is my choice for the film of the year. It’s a film by Philippe Garrel, a director whose work extends back to the New Wave, but works here like the era never ended. Shot in black and white 35mm, it often feels like a relic of lost time, a slippage of memories carefully stitched together in the hope that one may learn from past mistakes. It opens with a woman crying and closes on a man staring blankly before turning off a light, and in between these shots is a search for truth in others, a fool’s ambition.
“Love has its limits,” an old mentor relays to Louis, played by Garrel’s own son (also Louis). Louis claims his power to love beyond anything, but by this point we know there’s a difference between what he says and what he’s done. He’s gone one wife and one to a second, Claudia (Anna Mouglalis), but it doesn’t take him long to begin prospective kisses without any emotional warning. Louis and Claudia profess their undying love in one scene while always searching beyond the frame for something else. They occasionally hint at the deep seeded mistrust underneath their words of desire, which in fact only create the fuel for the titular emotion to begin a search outside their cramped apartment.
Garrel’s shots have a simplicity that simply puts characters’ bodies in direct relationship to physical love. Loving moments always take place in master shots, where two bodies collapse on top of each other. Fights always appear in shot-reverse shots, the emotions unknowable within the same frame. To not embody the same space is to create suspicion, and it is only when the ugly truth is revealed can Louis and Claudia employ the same frame while showing their ugliness. Like Eyes Wide Shut, it’s a film that asks more of the metaphysical aspects of love than tangible material. After Louis talks to a fellow cute performer in his troupe, the film cuts to Claudia sitting at dinner and suddenly feeling the urge to rush home. “I thought you left,” she exclaims in fear.
Unlike Kubrick’s work, however, the deeper mystery of Jealousy is externalized through not anxiety but through its matter-of-fact mise-en-scene and especially its confrontational editing, eliding both time and emotion in a way that never announces betrayal. Each edit in a Garrel film feels like a weight of time slipping away—how much has passed exactly?—and characters slip out of life like the rushing water of a stream, their sudden change in feeling a cause of time more than human control. Jean-Louis Albert’s guitar and piano gently hum along to signal the lightness of image that sublimates the complex emotions. A pleasant day of father-child-and girlfriend in the park produces happy memories that are juxtaposed with mother’s work of cooking, tucking in, and then sewing while the child sleeps (will she ever remember the real work of true love?). The decrepit walls of a tiny apartment signal the own tenuousness of the love produced there, and Claudia’s most damning betrayal for Louis is not her physical one but the fact she abandons their calling as struggling artists.
In the end, it’s all acting perhaps (“So don’t imagine”), not just for one’s lover but for oneself. Strangers can bring you freedom (“Don’t ask my name or if I come here often”), but real love is always in some way, dependent on a performance (“If you knew, why did you pretend tonight?”). Even a devastating gesture only represents a desire to play to a certain audience uninterested in attending this play. Only the child can see past the performance, incredulous that her own birth was love at first sight. Before Jealousy reaches that final shot of Louis, the final scene begins to fade to white as the film stock rolls out—a technical mistake or the signaling that it’s all a dream? We’re not sure where exactly Louis is in that final shot, or whether he is recalling events or simply imagining them. “Everyone has their reasons,” Renoir remarked 75 years ago. For Garrel’s cinema, not knowing anyone else’s is the tragedy.