This past year the U.S. debut of Philippe Garrel’s 1991 masterpiece J’entends plus la guitare led Reverse Shot’s own Nick Pinkerton to ponder, “Is Philippe Garrel ready to ‘break’ in America—or, at least, New York?” (Hat tip as I steal his lead.) Now with the arrival of Frontier of Dawn, the third Garrel stateside theatrical release in three years (including 2007’s Regular Lovers), the answer might be for the first time an unqualified yes. More than that: even by the relative standards of an uncompromisingly dour and slow-paced Gallic auteur, Frontier of Dawn happens to be the most audience-friendly Garrel of the ten or so I’ve had the pleasure of seeing. It’s not exactly Happy-Go-Lucky, but for an art-house director who figures as one of the last hopes in Adrian Martin’s postmortem on cult cinema in the latest Cineaste (“being part of [a Dublin gathering of Garrel enthusiasts] felt thrillingly like obtaining membership to a secret society”), Frontier of Dawn might mark a significant ripple in the gradual wave of Garrel’s ever-growing renown in the U.S.
Aesthetically Frontier of Dawn (apparently also translated from the original La Frontière de l’aube as Frontier of the Dawn or The Dawn of the Shore) strongly adheres to the stark, painfully intimate, long take–heavy, usually black and white–palette cinema (here lensed by William Lubtchansky) that Garrel’s made his own since he was a 20-year-old wunderkind; as a story (co-written with Garrel by Marc Cholodenko and Arlette Langmann, collaborators on his last three pictures) it grants to his autobiographically-tinged ur-narrative of romantic disintegration and regret a cast of modern young people existing in the present day but living very much as the anachronistic super-grave bohemians of almost all his films. Photographer François (shaggy-haired son Louis Garrel) meets famous actress Carole (Laura Smet—Garrel has an affinity for women more striking when they frown than when they smile) on an assignment to take pictures of the star (for what purpose we never learn—the world outside the characters’ emotions barely registers). Carole is married to a man often away in Hollywood, and François and Carole fall in love in his absence, though early on they’re already talking of their inevitable breakup.
Click here to read the rest of Michael Joshua Rowin’s review of Frontier of Dawn.