Throughout Philippe Garrel's colorful life, there has been plenty of room for great successes and spectacular failures, passionate love affairs and painful breakups, a wild youth and bad trips. The maker of Regular Lovers belonged to a generation whose identity was shaped at the barricades in Paris in May 1968. Because of his work, he was quickly promoted to the role of informal spokesman of his generation. Today, this nearly 70-year-old dandy with more than his share of wear and tear looks back on his decisions of long ago with an inspiring mix of nostalgia and bitterness.
When the youth revolt erupted, Garrel was 20 years old and had already directed several films. One of them, Marie for Memory, is seen as a prophetic pronouncement of the rebellion and the informal manifesto of those taking part. The street protests were also meant to lead to a revolution in the world of cinema. The young filmmaker was enamored in the older generation of the New Wave directors, but he did not intend to limit himself to passively imitating them. While Godard and company were content with emphasizing the autonomy of cinema in relation to literature, Garrel took things a step further and wanted to make films with no screenplay whatsoever. His first directorial projects were indeed brave attempts to bring this idea to life, forming a set of hypnotic, poetic films that are loosely connected with one another. Several of these experimental films were the result of Garrel's cooperation with the Zanzibar group, which was active between 1968 and 1970, and whose members included Serge Bard and Jackie Raynal, among others.
Just as the street protests were ultimately a fiasco, Zanzibar was unable to revolutionize cinema. In the end, Garrel decided to get away from hitherto hermetic forms that had existed up to that point and to try more conventional narration. That this was a good decision was confirmed by the prestigious Jean Vigo Award that he won for The Secret Son. In this new style, the thematic obsessions that would plague Garrel throughout his career quickly came to the fore. As a matter of fact, every one of his mature films attempts to discuss love in a way that is devoid of the clichés of romantic comedies and melodramas. The films by the maker of Emergency Kisses often focus on the twilight of the idyllic period of a relationship, which cannot withstand the confrontation with everyday problems and the temptations of the outside world. However, Garrel's protagonists never give up; they drift from one relationship to another in search of even short-term happiness. Trying to forget, many of them bury themselves in their work-Garrel's films are often self-referential, describing the efforts of directors with the desire to realize their own personal visions.
The intersection of art and life is very clear in I Can No Longer Hear the Guitar and Frontier of the Dawn, which were conceived as epitaphs for the Garrel's famous muses, Nico and Jean Seberg. Even more moving is his late masterpiece, Night Wind, in which Garrel tells the story of one of the veterans of May 1968 who, years later, decides to commit suicide. It is hard to resist the temptation to think that the director could have suffered the same fate if it had not been for his undying faith in love and art. It is undoubtedly because of this faith that every one of Garrel's films radiates a healing, purifying power.