THE BIRTH OF LOVE (Philippe Garrel, 1993)

“Do you love me?” This question involving friends Marcus and Paul encapsulates contemporary egotism and self-doubt. Marcus must ask this of his partner, who may have initiated their love affair but who is now exhausted by her lover’s need for reassurance, which losing his job has only deepened. On the other hand, Paul receives the question from the mother of his teenaged son and infant daughter. He loves family for whatever reassurance it provides against the uncertainties of life; but her in particular? He is more emotionally giving in succession to two mistresses. At one point, their son relays his mother’s question to his father, and we understand that the boy also wonders whether Papa loves him. Paul has returned home only to abandon his family again; “Papa! Papa!” the boy cries out into the street as Paul, suitcase in hand, once again leaves in the midst of his middle-age crisis.
     Brilliantly written by the director and Marc Cholodenko, Philippe Garrel’s La Naissance de l’amour is a film about two men who are “wanderers” even when they stay relatively put. It is about life’s loose-endedness, its incapacity to provide fulfillment for its artistically gifted members who aren’t runaway successes. Paul acts; Marcus writes.
     Assisted by Raoul Coutard’s peerless black-and-white cinematography, The Birth of Love is Godard’s Alphaville (1965) long since come back to Earth with heartbreak. It is domestic indoors, except in the bedroom, where it is achingly lonely and reaching-out; outdoors at night, as Paul and Marcus walk together, it is lyrical and endlessly dead-ended. Finally, the film takes to the road as Paul delivers Marcus to Rome.
     Subtle use of hand-held camera becomes a part of our eye.
     Lou Castel gives a lived-in, career-capping performance as Paul; Jean-Pierre Léaud is a wonderful Marcus.

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