Les Amants Reguliers

Both The Dreamers and Les Amants Réguliers take place in Paris, at least partly in 1968. Both films star Louis Garrel (who, by the way, is dreamy, though googling for pictures of him reveals a somewhat misguided choice of hairstyles). So, going into Les Amants Réguliers, I expected something roughly like The Dreamers.

There’s a pretty good chain of DVD stores in the Netherlands called “DVD Valley”, good in great part because they sort their films by genre, and not alphabetically. Two of the genres they have are “Arthouse” and “Arthouse light”. The Dreamers definitely fits under the arthouse light category, despite all the full frontal nudity. Les Amants Réguliers? Far out in the hardcore arthouse field. And you know what? I kinda really liked it. To put it more precisely: it reminded me of what film can do, reminded me that indie films aren’t just be about a slower pace or quirkier characters, but that true arthouse films can be an entirely different experience from traditional narrative film.

This is a black and white film with barely the outline of a plot which nonetheless manages to be three hours long, with long almost static takes in which little happens, only scatterings any background music in the first half, and characters with no clear personality traits. I understand entirely if it sounds like torture to sit through it.

The film gets to the Paris riots pretty soon, long before it gets to any part involving lovers, in any case. Molotov cocktails and police charges. Sounds exciting? Not really. There is only extremely long take showing people throwing Molotov cocktail after the other at a burning car, with a few people in the foreground with helmets on watching impassively, a girl with a similar helmet kissing a guy, the main character crouching on the ground, standing up, crouching again. They move a car, throw it on its side as a barricade.

This sequence is crucial in the film, I believe, because it allows you to let go. It was during this passage that I stopped trying to make sense of things, look for the usual signs of narrative, stopped registering everything so precisely. It’s when I stopped watching the film to much and just let myself be carried away. And I love that, especially in the cinema, just letting you forget yourself for a moment (and I’ll admit, in one very slow passage, close my eyes for a few seconds). It’s why I loved La Dolce Vita and 8 1/2, though this film was far from Fellini’s level, the individual passages much less fascinating, the artistic vision much less clear, and, to be honest, the characters a little generic. Interchangeable, even, at points. Despite these failings, the film took me somewhere else for a few hours, somewhere a lot less glamorous than I like imagining it, but in a way that I had somehow managed to forget existed.

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