Wednesday Editor’s Pick: J’entends plus la guitare (1991)

by on February 1, 2012Posted in: Editor's Pick

Playing Wed Feb 8 at 7:30 at 92YTribeca [Program & Tix]

The site Not Coming to a Theater Near You (which recently got a makeover!) continues their fruitful programming collaboration with 92YTribeca. This month they screen auteurist fave Phillipe Garrel’s not-so-veiled account of his relationship with rock’n’roll frau Nico, recently released stateside by Jake Perlin’s invaluable distribution company The Film Desk. Keep your eyes peeled on the site, as they often post coverage the week building up to the screening.

Alt Screen Contributing Editor Nathan Lee for the Village Voice:

A masterpiece. The meaning of love, the mystery of women, life, and all that: Garrel finds it, everything, in the faces, bodies, and words of his actors. If not the greatest movie we’ll see this year—though it’s a strong early candidate—J’entends will surely prove the most tenderly played. Raw, rueful, and piercingly alert, a film of tremendous formal instinct and cogent human truth, J’entends is an oblique memoir of the filmmaker’s relationship to Nico (Steege)—and a testament to the elusive genius of a postwar French master.

Why Garrel clicks is hard to pin down in part because he clunks; the eloquence of J’entends is inseparable from its awkwardness. There’s a softly discordant thrust to Garrel’s montage, a pervasive tone of docile atonality. He retains the junkie’s habit of tremendous concentration on nothing; you feel the intensity of his gaze without quite understanding it. He can seem, like Cassavetes (or Henri Rousseau), at once the most sophisticated and naïve of artists. My guess is the tremendous force of Garrel’s vision, as exemplified in J’entends—the most disciplined of the half-dozen pictures I know, and widely considered his apotheosis by devotees—is rooted in a brilliant eye for casting. It’s in living beings for sure; few filmmakers match Garrel’s ability to register palpable human presence in every shot.


Director Olivier Assayas:

Philippe Garrel is the proverbial underrated genius. He is the closest thing to a poet functioning today in French cinema. I Don’t Hear the Guitar Anymore is possibly his masterpiece. It is about his love affair with Nico, it’s about his heroin addiction, it’s also about surviving youth, surviving in an age where everything you stood for, believed in, dreamed of has been crushed.

Kent Jones in his program notes for “Film Comment Selects”:

Arguably Philippe Garrel’s masterpiece, J’entends plus la guitare is a surpassingly delicate meditation on love, loss and the passage of time. As always, Garrel and his scenarist Marc Cholodenko are working in the realm of poetically refracted autobiography, one level away from psychodrama. The incandescent Johanna Ter Steege is the Nico figure and the late Benoit Régent is the Garrel stand-in, and their scenes together play like instants plucked from the past and preserved in crystalline form, under perfectly captured natural light (thanks to the great Caroline Champetier behind the camera). The guitar that is no longer heard, except in memory, belongs to the Velvet Underground, an echo of yesterday’s dreams. One of the greatest of the ’90s.



David Fear for Time Out New Yorl:

Bonding over notions of passion as a transcendent perpetuity, Gérard and Marianne bicker, break up and reunite while riding the white horse, eventually splitting prior to his settling down. (The fact that the new female presence in his life is played by Brigitte Sy, Garrel’s former spouse and the mother of his son, Louis, only adds to the nakedly confessional aspect.) When Marianne reinserts herself into Gérard’s life, she’s clean but no less emotionally volatile. You can guess what’s around the corner.

Utilizing an elliptical style that’s alternately invigorating and maddening—Gérard goes from druggie to daddy in a single cut—Garrel’s eulogy is both a tribute and a pitiless autopsy of a couple’s self-destructive tango. The guitar he can no longer hear, however, isn’t just the late singer but the promises the past sweeps away. According to the movie, that’s the macrotragedy of life: Be they social or romantic, youthful ideologies are destined to eventually die on the vine.


Andrew O’Hehir for Salon:

Like Garrel’s more recent and arguably more accessible Paris ’68 drama “Regular Lovers,” “J’entends plus” slowly builds a trippy, meditative state out of apparently miscellaneous, formless material. If you have the patience for his work, it evokes the peculiar feeling that you’ve known his characters all your life, gotten high in the same crappy rooms with them, slept with them, had the same endless discussions with them. (Perhaps you have.)
Garrel pays little attention to chronology or internal narrative consistency, and major plot developments go unexplained. I believe he’s a masterful filmmaker, with a magical, transparent command of the medium, and so those choices don’t bother me. I don’t kid myself that large numbers of other viewers will feel the same way. Hey, compared to Garrel’s LSD-drenched experimental films of the ’60s and ’70s, though (including some made with Nico), “J’entends plus” is a model of clarity. Caroline Champetier’s odd, drifty natural-light cinematography pulls us through Garrel’s decrepit apartments, coffee houses and beach towns, places haunted by Gérard and his friends like ghosts of the idealistic young dreamers they used to be, not long ago.



Nick Pinkerton with some background on Garrel’s relationship with the chanteuse, for Reverse Shot:

Further evidence that the Nineties might be the greatest film decade: Guitar was finished in 1991, three years after the mausoleum-throated Teutonic chanteuse Nico plopped off her bicycle in Ibiza, dead (keeping an appointment, by most accounts, she’d had for some time). Garrel had spent most of the Seventies with her. Their bodies of work from their time together are inextricable: the cover of her album Desertshore is a still from Garrel’s monumentally inhospitable La Cicatrice interieur (The Inner Scar), in which she and her music prominently feature, alongside the director himself. Together they’d blackened spoons, stabbed veins, and creatively malingered in slag piles of medieval dolor and post-plague barrenness.
They met sometime in ’68, ’69, we’ll say. He was a prodigy, having turned out a near-masterpiece by age twenty (the mythopoetic house-of-horrors Le Lit de la vierge, which uses her “The Falconer”). She was ten years his senior, and had been making the scene forever—tripping through La Dolce vita, recording with the Velvets, and basically being the Forrest Gump of “counterculture” starfucking, notching affairs with Bob Dylan (who wrote “I’ll Keep It With Mine” for her), Jackson Browne (ditto “These Days”), Lou Reed (to whom she granted the legendary dismissal “I cannot make love to Jews anymore”), Jim Morrison, Tim Buckley, Alain Delon (with whom she had a child in 1962), Iggy Pop (whom she allegedly gave the clap) . . . Garrel seems to have taken her more seriously than the aforementioned.
François “Faton” Cahen does a superlative soundtrack, which often suggests obscure menace—and so is all the more moving when it unexpectedly breaks into slippery, sentimental fiddle and gamboling piano, as Gerard opens the door on Marianne, returning home to give things another try (“It’s time for a kiss”). A cut; kneeling before his seated beloved, he contentedly presses his lips to hers—and then the clatter of her piss hitting water interrupts. I haven’t seen anything in movies that affects me quite this way: it is rude and ridiculous and really real. It’s the old harmony that Garrel—or Gerard—can’t forget, which underlays everything after



A.O. Scott for the New York Times:

“J’Entends Plus la Guitare,” a film by Philippe Garrel, is a fugue composed in a key of philosophical melancholy. Though its subject is love, the movie is less a romance or the story of a breakup than a series of meditations on, and analytical explorations of, need, truth and the passage of time. The dialogue is abstract and cerebral as only French discussions of l’amour can be, but Mr. Garrel’s hovering, undulating camera movements impart a dimension of sensuality to the endless, sometimes inscrutable talk.
Garrel’s narrative method is not to present a series of dramatic incidents but rather to stage the languorous, meandering conversations that come in between or happen instead. Fights, couplings and confrontations take place for the most part off screen, and what we see is a glancing, oblique collection of moments happening over months and years in the characters’ lives.
Neither Mr. Garrel nor Mr. Régent insist on making Gerard likable. The psychology of love does not depend on norms of decency or responsibility, and Gerard and Marianne’s affair — based on Mr. Garrel’s own involvement with the German singer Nico — pursues this insight with honesty and rigor. And also with astonishing lyricism and intimacy. Though it unfolds chronologically, “J’Entends Plus la Guitare” pursues its themes with the intuitive freedom of a memoir or a poem, rather than conventional narrative logic. Like the ghostly music its title evokes, this film’s meanings are both elusive and haunting.



Daniel Kasman for MUBI:

I sense two things when Philippe Garrel turns his camera on. One is a person—not a character, but a real person—isolated off into their own space with their own sensibility. This is the spatial attribute of Garrel’s cinema, giving us the barest essentials of a limited location and coloring it almost in its entirety by the tenor of a person’s feelings, thoughts, and mood. The second thing that occurs with the revelation of each Garrel shot is the sense of an immediate, but receding, time. Like a water droplet stretched to its limits and about to fall off into space, each Garrel shot seems to have a tremendous but utterly fragile sense of a singular moment in the present, yet the very act of showing this “now” saps the camera’s present-tense enunciation. Even as we watch it, the shot seems removed—or removing—into the past.
It is this latter quality, this combination of momentary singularity and of time somehow passing beyond that moment, perhaps even during the moment, that gives Garrel’s cinema its unforgettable quality of memories transferred to film. And it is the spatial quality, isolated, minimal but so textured, and imbued with a beautiful sense of a life experienced—no psychology, no melodrama, just thoughtfulness and feeling—that gives this cinema of lived memory its devastatingly tangible feeling of the utterly personal.
Garrel is of course too oblique to tell what precisely is going wrong for these people and their times together, giving the most cryptic of shots and edits (a fade out on a man’s hands undoing a woman’s dress, neither owner identified), or ones so blunt they seems almost unbelievable (the sudden appearance of a baby signaling more plot development in a single cut than the rest of the movie as a whole). So we make do—sorrowfully—with Garrel’s melancholy slivers, obsessed with trying to live happily for a moment full of love but finding most moments beset by a restless and haunting past. What is so singular and ecstatic about Garrel’s cinema is that this feeling, this sense, is not merely the summation of a story’s themes but literally the evocation from the film’s form itself. The importance of spelling out characters and plot is totally eclipsed when one can see the power and the wounded, personal sensibility in even the most non sequitur shot, or cut-away, the most elliptical dialog or argument, and here in such a quotidian but utterly devastating final gesture.


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