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Lulu Wang (The Farewell)
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NYFF: In the Shadow of Women

Manuel here eating a baguette furiously hoping you’ll pay attention to him as he tackles this French film about wounded masculinity.

While I worried I would only catch films dealing with death throughout the entirety of the 53rd iteration of the New York Film Festival, I chanced upon Philippe Garrel’s In the Shadow of Women, a black-and-white film about infidelity. The film centers on Pierre and Manon (Stanislas Merhar and Clotilde Courau), a married couple who work together on his documentary film projects. We slowly see their routine slowly getting rusty and so it comes as no surprise when Pierre falls for a young intern (Lena Paugam) working at the same film archives our couple frequents. The affair and its subsequent shattering effect on the marriage plays out pretty much how you’d expect, with few of Garrel’s choices coming from left-field though never quite steering far from the narrative and character beats all too common in films about broken marriages.

I have to admit, I’m a sucker for this genre. Closer. Unfaithful. Gone Girl. Little Children. I love me a good “our relationship is falling apart” film. [More...]

...And yet I felt wholly indifferent to Garrel’s film.

Part of this has to do with the way the film wants to position itself as ironically pointing at the male protagonist’s self-aware brand of misogyny (we know he’s a pig, okay?) but it never quite distances itself enough from it, coming off instead as all but endorsing it. (There are plenty of moments when Garrel, offering up the film’s voice-over, lets us know that Pierre understands his feelings about his own indiscretion are antiquated: “well, men will be men, right?” but the script wants us to see this acknowledgement as absolution enough. That these moments are paired with shots of Merhar furrowing his brow while eating rice makes one wonder whether this parody of fragile masculinity is as self-aware as it thinks it is).

That said, Courau, saddled with a cipher of a character, makes the most of Manon. Her performance shines, especially in moments when Garrel’s framing allow her to wrestle with her thoughts viscerally: her bewilderment and anger radiate from her, compromising any control she may have on her body, making her jitter and tremble as she spouts dialogue that, while pedestrian, still rings true. In fact, the film’s visuals are particularly stunning; it makes one wish more modern films would so artfully embrace black and white cinematography. Renato Berta lights Garrel’s characters beautifully and gives the entire film a look that teeters between the grittiness of New Wave neorealism and the polished look of studio cinema, like Truffaut via Mankiewicz.

You can check out the trailer below:

In the Shadow of Women plays NYFF on Tuesday October 6th and Wednesday October 7th with Garrell, Courau and Paugam in person. It will be released in the US in early 2016

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    Response: vk

Reader Comments (1)

Great review ! Thanks

October 5, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterCharlie

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