FRONTIER OF DAWN (Philippe Garrel, 2008)

Minority opinion: Philippe Garrel’s La frontière de l’aube is a dreamy, enchanting film about love—obsessive, anxious, uncertain love. Beautifully acted by Louis Garrel, Philippe’s son, and Laura Smet, this somber tone-poem draws us deep into love’s shadows. It was booed at Cannes.
     Shadows indeed, and mirrors—this, a film about the doppelgänger. Bohemian François ascends a dark staircase to actress Carole Weissman’s Paris apartment, to photograph her. The darkness we see dogging the photographer may be the darkness of Carole’s depressed personality; a newlywed whose director-husband is currently in Hollywood, lonely Carole has an affair with François and falls madly in love with him. When he cools and abandons her, Carole imagines him thinking about her and answering her pleading letters. Eventually, she sets her place ablaze, is institutionalized, straightjacketed, electro-shocked. François presumably visits; but we suspect that his “presence” is imagined by Carole. Carole sits on her bed, her shadow on a bleak wall; as “François” paces back and forth, his shadow crosses and re-crosses hers. Released, she is reunited with her lover—again, we suspect, in her imagination only. Carole commits suicide, whereafter, engaged to marry Èvelyne, François periodically sees Carole when he looks into his apartment mirror of guilt; “I’m hiding in your dreams,” “Carole” tells him. She tries convincing him to commit suicide and join her. However, Ève is pregnant with their child. (Ève, “fragile,” according to her father, is another potential suicide.) “What’s scaring me?” François asks his closest friend, who replies: “Happiness. Bourgeois happiness.”
     Deftly written by Garrel, Marc Cholodenko and Arlette Langmann, La frontière de l’aube projects the competing claims of individualism and conventional social acceptance on us; its lustrous black-and-white cinematography by William Lubtchansky, highlighted by delirious black and near-black, patches outdoors in daylight to suggest the inroads that reality makes on our dreams of love. However, Garrel withholds the one truly objective shot—where the street below becomes a crushing wall—for the last.
     Much of the dialogue, because imagined, is interior, helping to make the film, despite the conversations, music and sounds, in some sense silent; and, indeed, the irising in and out, as well as the periodic silent blackouts between scenes, all suggest a silent film.
     Courageously, engrossingly, Garrel has made an analytical movie about the haunting experience of an aborted love.

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