The weird, wounded cinema of Garrel is inevitably honored with the vague epithet "poetic." His narratives eschew prose-like continuity, twisting and leaping with evocative ellipsis and rhythmic irregularity.
Philippe Garrel's 1991 masterpiece J'entends plus la guitare (I Don't Hear the Guitar Anymore) opens with a set of proofs, puns, definitions, and propositions.
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. J'entends will surely prove the most tenderly played films in recent years, with the movie contemplating its concepts as embodied in the daily existence of its bohemian Parisians.
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 (Johanna ter Steege) the musician/actress of Warhol Factory/Velvet Underground fame who died in 1988 - Garrel stand-in is Gerard (Benoît Régent). Also a testament to the elusive genius of a postwar French master. The guitar no longer being heard belongs to the Velvet Underground. Garrel paints in spots of time, telling the story of their doomed relationship in a series of conversations that skip ahead months or years with no clear demarcation.
There are no identifying period markers in his film in memoriam—other than a general sense of self-explorative indulgence that we associate with the late Sixties, that is. The only cultural signifiers are books of poetry. There are no identifying period markers in his film in memoriam—other than a general sense of self-explorative indulgence that we associate with the late Sixties, that is. The only cultural signifiers are books of poetry.
There is no suggestion that one is a famous cineaste and the other a celebrated chanteuse – these are merely people in love.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, at once the most sophisticated and naïve of artists. His films are semi-autobiographical depictions of the waxing and waning of relationships.
Like Jean-Luc Godard, Garrel peppers his conversations with sayings or adages. One of the central questions of "Guitar" is one of the oldest in literature: What is love? The question is usually answered with other questions: "Is love the fear of not being loved?" There was of course a whole generation of post-Godardian auteurs, of whom the most important was perhaps Philippe Garrel. In fact when he was 20, he trailed Godard, who in Jonathan Rosenbaum’s phrase “virtually adopted him in May ’68, when both were cruising the Latin Quarter student demonstrations with their cameras.” His approach is observational…
Moments of raw intimacy in cinema make it particularly painful to watch as the films usually lurch to their inevitably tragic conclusion. J'entends plus la guitare is therefore about love, sex, betrayal, despair, hard drugs, and despair.
Garrel taps a deep vein in his films and extracts something precious, raw emotion, and he does it without the theatrics or hysterical over-acting of Hollywood.
Garrel’s films are occasionally harrowing, often uncomfortable, and wholly rewarding. Garrel is not a sophisticated moviemaker, but because his films are elliptical and hyperreal, they always suggest mysteries and unanswered questions. Rarely has a filmmaker taken his own maturation and middle-aged growth as his career subject, in film after film, without distraction or compromise.
J'entends plus la guitare is a posthumous tribute to a magnificent, beloved but ultimately doomed soul… it is also a series of meditations on, and analytical explorations of, need, truth and the passage of time.