Philippe Garrel, much like fellow Frenchmen Jacques Rivette and Robert Bresson (a pair of auteurs who could very well be the unbeknownst secret parents of Mr. Garrel) is an acquired taste. He may very well not be for everyone, but for those who find and appreciate him, it is a taste that will eventually leave your palette hungry for more. Now the only problem is actually finding him.
Though making films since the mid sixties, Garrel is all but unknown in the US. Even among those most knowledgeable in cinema see Garrel as mainly a ghost. A mysterious spirit of the post Nouvelle Vague filmmaking scene that is more spoken of than actually seen. In fact it was just two years ago, with his remarkable three hour masterpiece on the events and shockwaves of May '68, Regular Lovers, that Garrel would even receive a proper US release of any kind. Critics and cinephiles alike were enthralled by the film but it in no way ensured future US screen time.
That is why I was both thrilled and a little upset at the tiny, minuscule, almost unmentionable New York release of Frontier of Dawn. Thrilled that this unquestionably lovely, yet morose film, has made it two in a row for Garrel and the US, but a bit mad by the lack of opportunity (and respect perhaps?) it is afforded in its one week only "secret" release at Brooklyn's BAMcinematek. Nonetheless it made it here, so who am I to complain. Plus it is receiving a lengthy run on IFC on Demand, so again, who am I to complain.
Storywise, this film is stereotypically Garrel - and I mean that in the most complimentary way. With its grainily vivid black and white photography and melancholy mannerisms - not to mention the melancholy mannerisms of le fils Garrel, Prince Louis - Frontier of Dawn, though much less important than Regular Lovers, is a haunting (and I do not care how cliche such a word may sound, I say it anyway and with an exclamation of pride!) beauty to behold. An art cinema that is post everything that is that kind of art cinema, Garrel's film is a delicate ghost of cinema past. Both beautiful and painful.
A precisely ambiguous tale of obsessive (and quite selfish) love, Frontier of Dawn stars Garrel the younger and Laura Smet as a pair of tortured lovers who find they cannot live without each other - an undying fact they find to be true, even from beyond the grave. Garrel, much like the aforementioned Bresson, imbibes his film with a certain sense of despair yet makes his lovers seem all the more enthralling by their strange and subtle enthusiasm for one another. Compared by some to today's Mumblecore scene (rightly or wrongly - a little of both I believe) Frontier of Dawn and its auteur, Philippe Garrel may be a hard pill to swallow for many (and an even harder pill to get your hands on in the first place) but his disconsolate oeuvre is worth the search. [06/11/09]