Philippe Garrel’s Jealousy (La Jalousie) opens with a static medium shot of Clothilde (Rebecca Convenant). The young, blond woman’s lips begin to tremble and tears gradually stream down her face. It’s a stunning composition and one that instantly throws us in the emotional whirlwind she is experiencing. Despite the complete absence of background information about her at this point, there’s an immediacy and punch to the scene that sweeps us up. It’s as powerful an opening as one can expect, upon whose promise the film unfortunately never quite delivers.
Jealousy tells the story of Louis – though the concept of “telling a story” is used very loosely here – a young man who is revealed to be the reason behind Clothilde’s tears, breaking up with her in a conversation we witness through the keyhole from the perspective of their bubbly daughter, Charlotte (Olga Milstein). Louis is played by the director’s son, the eponymous Louis Garrel, in his fifth outing with Garrel Sr. Louis is a struggling actor, a fact that Jealousy emphasizes via many clichéd visual hints: the perfectly imperfect coiffure, the absent gazes, and his general gloomy, confused look. All that and there are still wistful musical cues, too.
The failure of Louis’s marriage is partially due to a passionate affair with another struggling actor, the posh, raspy-voiced Claudia (Anna Mouglalis), whose mere introduction in the film portends another failing relationship. This unfortunate predictability isn’t entirely Claudia’s fault; instead, the film’s heavily New Wave-inspired mood is so familiar that little is left to the imagination. The triangular path of this romantic entanglement is well trodden and outdated, and Garrel adds nothing to the formula that has been in practice since the era of Truffaut’s Jules et Jim. Without that element of friction, a romantic unpredictability, Jealousy waltzes through its compact running time, offering glimpses of men and women whose lives in which we are inexplicably asked to be invested.
This isn’t to say that Garrel’s film is devoid of pleasures. Structured along loosely threaded sequences that jump back and forth chronologically, Jealousy is by that nature tonally inconsistent; the impact of each scene is mostly contained within its boundaries before our attention is directed away to a new interaction. There is an autobiographical element to the story, as it has been largely inspired by Philippe Garrel’s relationship with his own father – here portrayed by Louis, while Philippe’s perspective is lent to the little girl. The loose connection between the scenes gives the film an enchanting quality of resembling the director’s memories.
Among these sequences, a heartfelt conversation between Clothilde and Charlotte is the standout moment. After a day spent with her father and his new girlfriend, Charlotte returns home to her mother for dinner. She’s vivacious and also seems to possess a childlike cluelessness about the dynamics of her parents’ relationship and the slyness to get under her mother’s skin. It’s an inspired moment, one in which we see two realized characters, outside their archetypal roles, sparking magical intimacy on the screen. Alas, moments like that are few and far between. Jealousy is otherwise completely occupied with gorgeously packaged, chic Parisian archetypes that remain utterly impenetrable for those looking from the outside into this self-contained, clichéd universe.