Cast: Esther Garrel, Louise Chevillotte, Éric Caravaca, Paul Toucang, Félix Kysyl, Michel Charrel, Nicolas Bridet, Marie Sergeant
Director: Philippe Garrel
Running time: 1 hour 16 minutes
by Jericho Cerrona
Romantic fidelty is a topic extremely germane to the romantic comedy/drama. The bitter heartbreak of betrayal and the ways in which characters in these genres attempt to cope work in no small part because they speak to a larger urge in all of us to be loved by another. Longstanding French auteur Philippe Garrel has tackled this territory countless times before, especially in some of his more recent efforts like Jealousy and In the Shadow of Women. His latest is a departure of sorts because it focuses on the emotional highs and lows of female characters rather than following a male lead wallowing in self-pity. In fact, the men here are largely caught in the vortex of Jeanne (Ester Garrel) and Ariane (Louise Chevillotte), two women of roughly the same age existing in different romantic circumstances.
The hook for Lover for a Day is simple and laid bare within the film's early moments. Jeanne has been dumped by Matéo (Paul Toucang) and kicked out of their Paris apartment. Face streaked with tears, she arrives at her father Gilles's (Éric Caravaca) flat, where he's currently involved with Ariane, a former student who is the same age as his daughter. What follows is an artful look at burgeoning womanhood; made all the more palpable by the fact that Garrel has cast his daughter in one of the lead roles. While similar aesthetically to his last film, In The Shadow of Women, the crisp widescreen black-and-white imagery and rhythmic naturalism of Lover for a Day feels less navel-gazing because it allows for curiosity and introspection. Instead of leaning into how Gilles views his daughter and lover, the male perspective is kept largely ambivalent. Though both Jeanne and Ariane endure multiple fits of tearful breakdowns, their responses feel authentic to characters of that age, and represent a trajectory which eventually brings them together.
After Ariane prevents Jeanne from committing suicide, there's an intriguing dynamic that develops. Though the former is none the wiser in terms of life experience, she takes on a nurturing quality that dovetails into an almost sisterly bond. During one lyrical sequence taking place at a nightclub, Garrel wistfully captures them dancing with male suitors in one long extended shot. Though this sequence doesn't last long, there's a rich emotionality to the way it's performed, with the women's dialogue muffled out by the sounds of a French ballad playing as Garell's camera lovingly pans back and forth. Lover for a Day is full of such moments; brief single images, prose-like voice over narration, and dramatic shifts captured in static tableaux or simple glances.
Though Gilles insists that infidelity is no huge obstacle, Ariane's desire to experiment outside the confines of their relationship nonetheless calls his bluff. Garrel initially presents Gilles and Ariane's courtship as progressive, but with each indiscretion, the film suggests that relationships are coded with all kinds of unspoken desires and expectations. This is contrasted with Jeanne's desire for monogamy, endlessly holding out hope that her former boyfriend will reconsider his mistake. Garrel treats both of these relationships sensitively, and even if the film ends with one couple falling apart and the other in a seemingly healthy place, there's little suggestion that one way of thinking is superior to the other.
In terms of acting, Ester Garrel gives a delicately wounded performance here, but its newcomer Louise Chevillotte who emerges as the standout. Ariane is a contradiction; unassuming, patient, loving, but also self-destructive and given to temporal sexual urges. At one point she turns and addresses Jeanne's breakup by saying, You’ll get over it. We always do. The "we" in this situation, of course, will eventually be her, and Chevillotte gives the line a solemnity that feels self-knowingly prophetic. As this exchange demonstrates, the film is attuned to the interior lives of women in a manner Garrel hasn't exactly explored with this much tact before. Therefore, even though the sounds of lovemaking and sobbing may swirl, Lover for a Day maintains resonance by treating its female characters as navigators of their own story rather than accessories to the lives of emotionally stunted men.