In The Shadow of Women, Somewhere Called the Misplaced Ego

Still from _In the shadow of women_
Still from _In the shadow of women_

   “I find the story simple but very interesting and well done. The narrator was hard to get though.” Alexa, student of the Saint-Laurent Cégep, enjoyed Saturday’s Festival du Nouveau Cinema screening. But I wonder, when it comes to the first part of her impression, did we actually attend the same event?

A black and white background, usually standing for contemporary cinematographic boldness, can also be synonym of deep boredom. If leaving the audience devoid of feelings was the goal of this French-Swiss movie, “In the shadow of women” might come as an achievement for Post Nouvelle-Vague director Philippe Garrel.

Artistic standards are nothing but subjective; I guess mine are pretty adjustable as long as I’m leaving the room overwhelmed with emotions. This is just not the case for “In the shadow of women” which was selected to open the Director’s Fortnight section at the 2015 Cannes Film Festival.

Pierre and Manon have the chance – or some would say the misfortune – to share their personal and professional life in Paris. As modest filmmakers, the couple loses their way into the daily life and the lack of artistic recognition. Pierre succumbs to the charm of the young intern Elisabeth, letting his chauvinism and overinflating ego dictate his actions. “Because he was a man.” How thrilling to hear that type of statement from this voice-off as pedantic as the next line in a bad 60’s porno…

Clotide Courau in the role of Manon might be the only accurate and good-average actress here. The only feeling I had toward the two other protagonists, respectively played by Stanislas Merhar and Lena Paugam, throughout the movie was this incredible need to punch them in the face. An emotionless husband, a submissive mistress, and a victimized wife… what a surprising and colorful combo. Shamelessly blaming his wife for her infidelity when knowing his own, Pierre is provoking pity more than anything else. A positive perception of women is nowhere to be found in this film whose title could pretend to sing their praises.

A sense of pathos and audacity emerges from some angles of several scenes, such as the discovery of infidelity in the kitchen. Yet one question keeps bugging me. How awkward is this voice-over coming from nowhere just to make comments on obvious facts rather than adding a different perspective to the cheating and love story? Louis Garrell, talented actor and the director’s son, is the voice of the third-person narrator.

73 minutes is not long for a movie, except when the almost total absence of music takes part in the lack of an overall flow. Choosing not to shoot the movie in black and white would have had at least the merit of focusing on something else than the dullness of the script itself. A lifeless setting making it almost grueling to witness the heavy gaps and numerous silences scattered within the film. Jean-Louis Aubert’s songs burst into the oppressive atmosphere as a fleeting alleviation.

   The most striking of all scenes might just be the last one if you insist on relating to the characters’ story. Seems like Pierre is waking up from a long-life coma when he finally doesn’t remain impassive when looking back at his relationship with Manon; the two get back together smiling back at their dirty tricks. The end. Either way I would have dumped the guy a long time ago. Initially released on May 14, In the shadow of women doesn’t really fulfill what could have been expected from the director of Marie pour Mémoire and Les Hautes solitudes. Outrageousness narcissism, repugnance, jealousy and bad faith are burying this cinematographic approach whose moral remains dubious.

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