Philippe Garrel (b. 1948)

Les Chemins perdus (1966-67)
Le revelateur (1968)
Les Hautes solitudes (1974)

Garrel made his first short film at 16 and was swiftly dubbed a cinematic Rimbaud. He shot what Godard called «the best film about May '68» (the student-worker uprising), and then, during the 70s, embarked on a series of cinematic «experiments», avoiding conventional narrative and specific social references in favor of private, symbolic worlds replete with archetypal character and action. The influence of painters Georges de la Tour and Ingres is evident in these «spectacles». Around 1969, he met Nico, the Velvet Underground diva, who became a sort of muse, starring in a number of his films.

Working with minuscule budgets in relative obscurity, appreciated by a small number of dedicated fans but ignored by the mainstream to the point that only one of his films has been released in the Anglophone world (his first feature, «Marie pour mémoire» in 1967), Philippe Garrel is the archetypal romantic loner poet. He started filming in 1964 and made his first feature four years later. A child of 1968 and the Nouvelle Vague with a particular admiration for Godard, his films can be split into two periods. The first are underground works, hermetic visions of artistic alienation and, as the ‘70s wore on, film portraits of the people around him, notably the German chanteuse Nico of Velvet Underground fame with whom he lived for ten years. These were Garrel’s wild years of drug addiction, permissiveness and extreme alienation, which culminated in a traumatic experience of electroshock treatment. They would haunt the films that followed. From 1979 he chose to move into a more narrative cinema, to tell the story of his life rather than immerse viewers in abstract hermetic visions that reflected it, often only obliquely. The result is an ongoing series of autobiographical films, one of the most coherent bodies of work in the cinema. Marriages come and go, children arrive and ask awkward questions, parents pass on their wisdom and die and the Garrel hero shuffles into middle age under the shadow of lost loves and the lost dreams of the 1968 rising. Garrel’s cinematic universe is a pared down, melancholy place two steps away from the home movie. It is suffused with a uniquely affecting tenderness, a sense of intimacy almost unknown elsewhere. The couple is always at the centre of this universe, the pursuit of love and its numerous difficulties being his constant theme and, for him, the only theme worth dealing with. Among his best-known films are «Liberté la nuit» (1983, with Christine Boisson), «J’entends plus la guitare» (1990), «Le Coeur fantôme» (1995, with Luis Rego), and «Le Vent de la nuit» (1998, with Xavier Beauvois and Catherine Deneuve).