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Frontier of Dawn
Time Out New York Project: Issue #701, March 5-11, 2009
Dir. Philippe Garrel. 2008. N/R. 106mins. In French, with subtitles. Louis Garrel, Laura Smet, Clémentine Poidatz.
Garrel père reunites with Garrel fils for this frequently tedious rumination on rabid passion that still manages to linger in the mind. Philippe Garrel’s films lend themselves to terms such as cinèma du endurance and acquired taste—certainly the case with his and Louis’s previous effort, the three-hour May ‘68 opus, Regular Lovers (2005). Frontier of Dawn is infinitely more tolerable, though still a slog. It works best during its earlier sections, which detail the burgeoning love between photographer François (Garrel) and actress Carole (Smet) and which are particularly memorable for the iconic spiritual affect given the leads by cinematographer William Lubtchansky, shooting in sensuous black and white.
Garrel takes an aesthetic cue from silent films (as in Regular Lovers, a rooftop sojourn harkens back to fellow Frenchman Louis Feuillade) and front-loads his present-day tale with anachronisms (François’s main prop is an old box camera; he and Carole often communicate via handwritten love letters). No surprise that the relationship comes to a tragic close, allowing François to pursue a more normal life with the less neurotic Eve (Poidatz). But Carole literally haunts François, beckoning him back to the tempest from within the confines of a looking glass, an image that suggests Debbie Harry’s siren call in Videodrome as reconfigured for a Cocteau dreamscape. Long live the old flesh.—Keith Uhlich