A Burning Hot Summer | On Demand review
Philippe Garrel riffs on Godard’s Contempt.
French director Philippe Garrel (Regular Lovers) makes nakedly autobiographical movies marked by a commingling of sex and death. (Many of his films deal with his ten-year relationship with actress, musician and Warhol muse Nico, who died young in 1988.) Jean-Luc Godard was both a critical influence and key early supporter, and Garrel’s new film, A Burning Hot Summer, is an echo—or inversion—of Godard’s 1963 masterpiece Contempt. The director’s first color film since 1999’s Night Wind, the new movie was photographed by Willy Kurant (Godard’s Masculin Féminin) in a spare, muted palette that intensifies its anguish and despair.
Making glancing allusions to Contempt, the movie starts the way Godard’s film ends, with a car crash, and loops back to contrast the intertwined fates of two couples, the painter Frédéric (the director’s son, Louis Garrel) and his wife, Angèle (Monica Bellucci), a beautiful but emotionally fragile Italian actress. They share their Roman villa with two struggling French actors, Paul (Jérôme Robart) and Elisabeth (Céline Sallette).
Garrel’s movies are easy to deride because of their emotional directness, and because plot and story are clearly not his strengths. Like John Cassavetes, Garrel is at his most authentic and electrifying depicting extremes of instability and romantic tumult. His camera is constantly alert to his actors’ bodies, faces and gestures, as in a fantastic party sequence that reveals Angèle’s infidelity. The interplay of history and memoir achieves a lyrical grace in the finale, which finds the younger Garrel and his grandfather (Maurice Garrel) engaged in a haunting confrontation. (Available on VOD Fri 29; see ifcfilms.com for details.)