That Summer begins with the director’s son Louis, pacing restlessly at a rest stop; cut to Monica Bellucci, nude, posed for the camera she mutely implores; cut to Louis G., drivin’ and cryin’ and smashing his coupe against a tree. With his liquid physicality and stormily distracted expression, Louis, who here plays Frédéric, a painter who paints only in spurts of torment, is the ideal instrument for his father’s cinema, with its longueurs of self-engulfing dreamy passion: he’s Romantically abstracted even as his movie-star wife Angèle (Bellucci, ripe and sad) pulls a splinter from his foot.
In the film—without U.S. distribution after a festival debut last fall, it screens once at “First Look,” the MoMI’s new international cinema showcase—an aspiring actor recalls how he and his girlfriend spent a summer with an intimate but occluded view of Frédéric and Angèle’s imploding marriage. Though a revolutionary, Paul (Jérôme Robart) is enamored of Frédéric’s languid, moneyed charisma—the “dead beauty” he ascribes to Rome, though he can’t leave it—while Angèle and Élisabeth (Céline Sallette) suffer from acutely understanding their roles in the men’s fantasy lives. (Paul and Élisabeth meet on a movie set, where she really is asleep before being jolted awake by gunfire sound effects—Garrel is cinema laureate of heady pillow talk and casual sensuality. Despite her dark-rimmed eyes and multiple suicide attempts, Élisabeth is conscious of how Paul—who wakes with a start at his own narration—resents her groundedness and orbits Frédéric’s classically tragic fraternal allure; Angèle resists several men’s idealization.)John Cale did the score, which conjures a mood of instant elegy with Satie-lite slow piano and gypsy guitar; Garrel also stages a Britpop dance sequence that tensely echoes the one in his Regular Lovers. There are ghostly shimmers across surfaces as bare as the plastered white walls of a cold-water flat: Frédéric and Angèle haunt each other between takes at Rome’s massive Cinecittà studio, and Paul appears in a WWII movie uncannily recalled in a monologue delivered by Garrel grand-père Maurice, an apparition in multiple senses—he died last June—in his last, deeply moving film appearance.
January 13 at the Museum of the Moving Image