French director Philippe Garrel is getting a TIFF retrospective. His movie I Can No Longer Hear The Guitar is in the middle of a decade spanning career. And I’ll talk about the film’s context since everybody else has. But with or without that context, it is still one of the coldest, darkest films about love ever made. It starts out in a northern beach town. As if it’s an older, sadder version of A Summer’s Tale by Eric Rohmer. French directors can do cold, using contrasts to while exploring romantic relationships. The characters here, Marianne (Johanna ter Steege) and Gerard (Benoit Regent) do that while translating poetry to each other. This sounds twee, but Garrel depicts these as banal moments. That way, we can’t hold on to these scenes as their relationship falls apart.
Even with Garrel’s bleak camera Marianne still comes off as beautiful. Her wild, curly, blonde hair indicative of the energy she gives to the movie. That’s despite of everything that happens. This film takes place around the summer of love. Both become part of an excruciating on again off again relationship. During their first time as a couple she deals with custody issues. That issue comes with her lack of French citizenship, which Garrel intelligently uses. Marianne’s occasional misuse of the French language reminds me of my English. Her words eventually fit whatever situation she’s in. Their second go around is more tumultuous, as both close themselves off from others and start using heroin. Their casual drug use turns turns more into a dependence that’s more snappy than the usual drug narrative.
Now, context. Marianne is a substitute for Nico, the one time Velvet Underground lead singer. Gerard fills in for Garrel, who moves through women before Marianne returns and disrupts his sobriety. The movie straightens out her reputation that comes with pioneer female rockers. It paints a more complex, tragic portrait of a woman he considers the love of his life. In portraying himself and his inspiration there’s a deliberate use of conversation and silence. And ter Steege plays female character who would have otherwise seemed nagging and needy. But she adds a maturity that fits a realistic look on love. The camera fades out before off screen, intimate moments. It gives us something deliberately incomplete when someone tells a story close to home. And there’s a pure sadness to the darkness between and during scenes.
- Release Date: 1991