Lover for a Day examines complex relationships

By SARAH SCHREIB | February 15, 2018

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JAVIER PAREDES/CC BY-SA 2.0 Philippe Garrel directed Lover for a Day, which stars his daughter Esther.

For those who go to the movies only to be swept up by fantastical images and dramatic character arcs, Lover for a Day may not be the movie for you. It’s small and contained, at times presenting more like a play. 

At one hour and 16 minutes, the French film directed by Philippe Garrel gives the audience just a glimpse into the lives of its carefully crafted, highly realistic characters. 

Lover begins with the portrayal of a student-teacher relationship, with the pair sneaking off to the professor’s private restroom together. It is unclear if their romance is serious, or if this is their first time together. 

After the encounter, the professor — a scruffy middle-aged man with a thick black beard named Gilles (Éric Caravaca) — just stares sheepishly at Ariane (Louise Chevillotte), a tall freckled young woman whose movements suggest both a steady confidence and unease. 

A gentle black fade then plants us in front of an apartment building with a young woman sitting on the front steps, sobbing. The narrator, an unnamed young woman, tells the audience that Jeanne, played by Esther Garrel of Call Me by Your Name, has just been dumped by her boyfriend. 

Jeanne then lifts herself up and wanders to the home of her father, the professor from the first scene. Jeanne soon discovers that Ariane, who is her age, is living with him. 

Once this dynamic is set, the film guides us through the next few months of heartbreak, passion, negotiations, desperation and existential doubt. The three live together in harmony and conflict, with moments of uncomplicated compassion and tension. 

While Lover does present classic situations of heartbreak and secretive student-teacher relationships, it does so in unexpected and truly thought-provoking ways. 

While Jeanne could have been upset at her father for dating someone her age, she is too distraught by her recent breakup for this point to become anything more than a brief topic of conversation. 

Rather, this similarity bonds the two women: They support one another in their quests to understand love and find fulfillment. When Jeanne is overwhelmed by despair and tries to jump out of her window, Ariane struggles to pin her to the bed.

Ariane then convinces Jeanne to find joy in life outside of her failed relationship. When Gilles is enraged by Ariane’s constant infidelity, Jeanne becomes her advocate, begging her father to let her stay. 

As the characters — Jeanne in particular — stumble through the crossroads of this moment in their lives, the film asks questions about the nature of intimate relationships. The characters wonder to themselves and one another about the role of age, gender, commitment and fidelity. 

While Gilles is a philosophy professor who presents his own notions, it is Ariane — steadfast in her beliefs — who makes the majority of philosophical declarations. 

The characters are not perfect human beings, nor are they misanthropes who make outlandish mistakes or pretentious assertions. Each is sympathetic in their own way, with clear motives and apparent care for one another. When their thoughts are not as clear in a particular moment, the narrator gives us greater insight. 

Lover For A Day is not a dark or brooding film. Even with the mature themes and sometimes grave emotions, Garrel manages to keep a straightforward sense of lightness. This prevents the film from fully plunging into the realm of cynical-pretentious-smokers-ponder-the-meaning-of-life. 

The use of black and white compliments the simple, steady nature of the film. It gives a timeless feel to the film’s modern setting and emphasizes sentiment over visuals. 

Within this almost perfectly crafted film, one of the disappointing elements is the soundtrack. While most of the scenes are not accompanied by music, at certain points in time a loud overly sentimental piano melody would swoop in and nearly drown out the dialogue. 

The music is also blaring in a dreamy sequence, in which Ariane and Jeanne dance with new lovers under glazed white light. Though this artistic choice is bizarre, it does not come close to spoiling those scenes.

In its relatively short duration, Lover presents the beauty and mystery of life and love in its simplest forms, in the everyday moments and conversations that are deeply meaningful for those involved. 

Though it is unclear if the characters will eventually learn from their mistakes or recreate the closeness they once shared, we have undoubtedly caught them at a significant moment in time. 

For those looking to be swept up in this whirl of quiet intimacy, it is absolutely worth a Sunday afternoon trip to the Parkway Theatre.

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