By Richard Porton
Like other recent Philippe Garrel films (e.g., Frontier of Dawn, Jealousy), In the Shadow of Women is a ruminative tale of a love triangle gone awry. What makes this latest installment in Garrel’s ongoing faux-autobiographical saga slightly different is the contribution of veteran screenwriter Jean-Claude Carrière. Best known for his work on some of the most notable late Buñuel screenplays and Godard’s Sauve qui peut (la vie) (as well as more dubious recent projects such as The Patience Stone), Carrière injects a lighter, occasionally even screwballish tone into Garrel’s characteristic meld of erotic entanglements and political preoccupations.
Multi-layered narrative ironies are generated by the complications that ensue when Pierre (Stanislas Merhar) and his wife Manon’s (Clotilde Courau) relatively placid life as documentary filmmakers is threatened by the disruptive charm of the young and lissome Elisabeth (Léna Paugam), an intern at a film archive whose resources seem to hold the key for the couple’s investigation into the background of a purportedly heroic Resistance fighter. Pierre’s affair with his protégé, which he initially juggles quite successfully with his marital duties, is upended by his wife’s decision to take a lover herself. In a casual, supremely non-didactic fashion, Garrel skewers male hubris. Louis Garrel, whose forays as a director have proved less impressive than his father’s (and a heartthrob who might well have been cast as the caddish Pierre) is the off-screen narrator.