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You know you want a revolution
A region 2 DVD review of REGULAR LOVERS / LES MANTS RÉGULIERS by Slarek

I've read some rather passionate responses to Regular Lovers [Les Amants réguliers] from both sides of the critical divide. It's been hailed as the best French film of the year by some and panned as the worst in fifty by others. It has been described alternately as mesmerising and mind-numbing. This division of opinion extends to perceptions of the film's intentions. According to some – the film's British distributor included – the film was a response to Bernardo Bertolucci's 2003 The Dreamers, but others dismiss this as bunkum. Mind you, given the similarity of subject matter, the fact that both star Louis Garrel, and that Regular Lovers was directed by Garrel's father Philippe, a man who shot a great deal of documentary footage during the real Paris uprising (much of which was subsequently lost), it would be a bit of a co-incidence if there was not a link.* But even those who claim there is no direct connection have managed to forge one of their own, casting the two films as Celebrity Death Match-style opponents for the Paris Uprising movie crown. Thus many of those who hated Bertolucci's film have openly embraced Garrel's, while the opposing camp wishes that Regular Lovers was even a fraction as involving as its slightly elder opponent. That both films were directed by French industry veterans only serves to fan the flames.

So which camp do I chose to sit in? Well, both of them, actually, and at the same time neither. I can appreciate both points of view, offer supporting evidence for each, but still have enough ammunition to shoot both off at the knees. Yes, it's THAT sort of film, and I use the term film deliberately – I have a feeling Garrel would just hate for his creation to be called a movie.

Harking back to the look and feel of the Nouvelle Vague, especially the works of Jean Eustache, Robert Bresson and, to a degree, Jean-Luc Godard, the film quickly introduces us to its leading man, student and aspiring poet François. A short while later he and his fellow comrades are out on the streets and taking part in the notorious Night of the Barricades, and this is where opinions will really start to divide. Events here shown not in the expected (and perhaps obvious) manner by placing the characters in the heat of the action, but though a series of static shots of largely peripheral inactivity, almost all filmed from a distance and all held on for far, far longer than would seem necessary. The Pro camp would argue that this footage has a genuine documentary feel and captures the essence of what it is like to be on the fringes of the uprising after the main event, and that it definitely does. The more cynical will doubtless smile at this low budget get-around that avoids having to actually stage anything as complex or expensive as a street riot.

Cinematically, the pace occasionally varies but never drastically alters course. The editing speed is upped a tad when François is chased by the police, but we are still in the position of dispassionate observer and remain so for the entire first third of the film. Once François starts hanging out with his fellow students at a pad owned by wealthy friend Antoine, where he smokes opium and talks about the revolution and poetry, he meets and begins a relationship with Lilie and the two hang out for pretty much the remainder of the running time. This is briefly interrupted for walks, a trip to get more drugs, a party (the film's liveliest sequence), and a visit to court for refusing military service.

The film's supporters claim there is an earthy authenticity to all of this that Bertolucci's film completely bypassed, and they may be right. For much of the time this feels more like documentary than drama, and the sense of place and time is sometimes vividly captured, aided immeasurably by William Lubtchansky's gorgeous high contrast black-and-white photography. There is occasionally a sense, in the edge-of-riot sequence especially, that Garrel is attempting to recreate his lost documentary footage from the period, and increasingly you get the feeling that he wanted us to see all of it. The developing relationship between François and Lilie in particular sometimes feels almost unedited, like a Nouvelle Vague-influenced Big Brother, where we are invited to sit and watch every small moment between the two, no matter how inconsequential it may seem. Once again this feels utterly authentic. The problem for many, myself included, is that François and Lilie are as dull a screen couple as I've encountered all year, and I neither engaged with them on any real level nor cared much for their fate, and at nearly three long hours the task of attempting any sort of empathy is too easy to abandon.

It's hard to be certain from the film itself where Garrel's sympathies really lie here. Certainly when François asks questions like "Can we make a revolution for the working class despite the working class?" you're not sure whether this is an expression of his youthful naivety or delusional self-importance. One thing I was left in no doubt about was that if there's going to be a revolution then there's no way it should be left to these guys. But maybe that's be the point. Many of us spent our student years with angry and lofty political ideals and hopes of changing the world, but even those of us who stuck by our beliefs have become depressingly aware of the Herculean nature of the task, particularly in a world that seems to choose the rampant lust for money and power over ideals and fair play every time. And where is that righteous anger now? Certainly when François says "They don't understand that life is what counts, not money," he may be stating the obvious, but increasingly it's a statement worth making.

It's easy to make the case for Regular Lovers as art over entertainment and argue that in the spirit of his lead character, Garrel has created a work that rejects commercial concerns in favour of a form of cinematic poetry. The opposing view would doubtless accuse the film being just like its two main protagonists, who look good but say very little of consequence, and take a really long time to do so. For myself, I found the film intermittently fascinating and evocative, but in the end was neither compelled nor enlightened, and as a result have no immediate plans to revisit it.

sound and vision

Shot in Academy ratio on high contrast black-and-white stock, there are certain aspects of any transfer that are to be expected, namely that grain is going to be visible throughout and shadow detail is going to be virtually non-existent. These are not print or transfer faults but very much part of the chosen aesthetic. In all other respects, the transfer here is largely excellent, with blacks thicker than an oil slick on a moonless night, a very pleasing quality to the greys and highlights, and detail as good as you could hope for. Very occasionally, there appears to be a faint overlay that looks like a slight transfer or tele-cine glitch, but it's rare and not exactly intrusive.

The sound is Dolby 2.0 stereo – none of your modern 5.1 nonsense here. In truth is is highly appropriate to the the film's shot-in-the-60s feel, and is clear without being striking. There is a slight hiss detectable in quieter scenes (of which there are many), and sound recording sometimes reflect the limitations of the location acoustics.

extra features

Given the near three-hour length of the feature and the quality of the transfer, I was surprised there was room on the disc for any special features, but Artificial Eye has still managed to squeeze on the Venice Film Festival Press Conference (27:47). There are a few hesitant moments, but some interesting revelations nonetheless, not least that Garrel took advantage of the far bigger budgeted The Dreamers to buy or borrow the costumes, props and even extras when they were finished with them. Although holding court with both of his lead actors, the director does most of the talking, and poor Clotilde Hesme doesn't get to say a word. Picture quality here is again first rate.

There are also Filmographies for Philippe Garrel, Louis Garrel and Clotilde Hesme.


Funnily enough, I was not that surprised when Garrel, in the press conference extra on this disc, identified Gus Van Sant's Last Days as one of the great films of recent years. There are certainly similarities in pace and tone to Regular Lovers, and neither boasts much in the way of narrative, but this did prompt me to wonder why I was blown away by Van Sant's film but left largely cold by Garrel's. And it's a question I can't easily answer, although I remember when first watching Last Days being struck by the fine line that Van Sant was walking, how what was strangely mesmerising must on paper look like deadly viewing. And of course, for many it was just that, which brings us right back round to the issue of subjectivity, and try as I might, like any viewer I can only be subjective about the film I am watching, and for me Regular Lovers tried to walk that line and simply fell off it. Others will and do disagree, but if you have the cash to spare and think this may be your glass of tea, then you can't go wrong with Artificial Eye's DVD, which has a fine transfer and one worthwhile extra feature.

* Garrel himself claims that the two films being conceived and made so closely in time to each other was indeed co-incidental, so who knows.

Regular Lovers
[Les Amants réguliers]

France 2005
171 mins
Philippe Garrel
Louis Garrel
Clotilde Hesme
Julien Lucas
Eric Rullia
Nicolas Bridet
Mathieu Genet
Raïssa Mariotti

DVD details
region 2
1.33:1 OAR
Dolby stereo 2.0
Venice Film Festival press conference

Artificial Eye
release date
23 October 2006
review posted
5 November 2006

See all of Slarek's reviews