“Le sel des larmes” at the berlinale: asshole moves included.

Male amorous suffering is the big theme in Philippe Garrel’s films. In his new work, too, love is spelled with a capital L.

Souheila Yacoub (Betsy) with Logann Antuofermo (Luc, r.) Photo: Rectangle Productions/Close Up Films

Luc (Logann Antuofermo), a young man, comes to Paris from the provinces, chats up a young woman, Djemila (Oulaya Amamra), at the bus stop – in the film, of course, the names come later -, first the looks, the bus ride, the hesitation, the following, the testing, he is interested in her, yes, she is interested in him, at five she is free.

They see each other again, with an intimate tête-à-tête it is difficult, he is only briefly in Paris, she lives at home, one makes it possible, but when Djemila buttoned up at Lucs grip towards his pants, he is disappointed, there are other possibilities, Djemila still says, but he just takes off. It won’t be Luc’s last asshole move.

Luc is a carpenter, something he learned from his father. He is in Paris for the entrance exam at the Ecole Boulle, the arts and crafts academy. He finds out the result months later, has to go back to the province, Djemila calls him again, he promises her a reunion, but Geneviève (Louise Chevellotte) gets in his way.

Where Djemila hesitates, she knows no wrong. They haven’t seen each other for years, now all it takes is an exchange of glances and words, a short elliptical cut, and she is naked in the tub. First his fingers play with it, then it splashes and the camera pans demurely to the side.

23.2. 6 p.m., Friedrichstadt-Palast

27.2. 12.30 p.m., Zoo Palast 1

1.3. 12.45 p.m., Haus der Berliner Festspiele

Geneviève then gets out of the tub naked, and later stands naked in the shower, which Luc’s male gaze visibly approves of. A gaze that Roberto Berta’s usual impressionistic camera, here and elsewhere, although it has more in mind than just Luc and Luc’s gaze, does not counteract at all.

Irresponsible men

Rather, all of this, Luc’s entire story, is painted on a very broad canvas in noble black and white, and the longer one watches this rather toxic Luc go through his perils, the more pressing the question becomes: why, in fact, am I being presented with this in such detail here, and then ultimately only from his point of view?

The constellations have long been familiar from Philippe Garrel’s work, who has been making more or less the same film again and again in a different way for a long time.

The man who becomes entangled in love troubles for which he is to blame because he does not want to know what must follow from what he does, because he does not take responsibility, because he is self-centered to the point of narcissism, in the name of art or in the name of love – this man is the typical Garrel protagonist.

Most recently, in "L’amant d’un jour" (2017), Garrel had told this from a woman’s perspective, with a female off-screen voice seemingly omnisciently commenting on the events. Here, the male voice from "L’ombre des femmes" (2015) is back, and it is again a man who stays while the women come and go.

Admittedly, the narrator fills more ellipses this time, holding back quite a bit with insights into the hero’s inner life. At one point, however, it says, roughly, "Luc realized after his experiences with Djemila and Geneviève that he had not yet known love."

The murmuring discourse of love is not ironically marked at this point, just as little as in the kitschy title. So nothing more than for the thousandth time: the love of the man with a capital L? At the same time, the narrative tone is altogether flippant, the narrator maintains a critical distance to his Luc.

One only wishes that instead of one woman after another, he would simply leave his dull protagonist behind. One would have preferred to learn the further history of Djemila, for example, who will appear only once more, mutely but strikingly. But Garrel remains Garrel, of course, and prefers to follow the very well-trodden paths.

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