Philip Kaufman has never done anything like this, but his experiment is a success in tone. He has made a movie in which reality is asked to coexist with a world of pure sensuality, and almost, for a moment, seems to agree. — Roger Ebert, 1988
Following an American Cinematheque 35mm presentation of Kaufman’s masterwork THE UNBEARABLE LIGHTNESS OFBEING—co-written by Jean-Claude Carrière—join Juliette Binoche and the writer-director for a post-screening Q & A.
I had better sex with other guys while thinking of him.
The quote above—a characteristic aside from one of the female leads in Louis Garrel’s AFAITHFUL MAN, the actor’s second turn in the director’s chair—refers to Abel (Garrel), a man of little agency in a romantic game of chance, seemingly happy to shuttle between Marianne (Laetitia Casta) and Ève (Lily-Rose Depp).
Abel and Marianne were lovers, until she announces—in the film’s first few minutes—that she is pregnant, and the father is their close friend Paul. Fast forward a decade and Paul has just died. Abel reconnects with Marianne at his funeral—a reunion witnessed by both Joseph (Marianne and Paul’s son, played by Joseph Engel), and Paul’s younger sister Ève, who has always had an unrequited crush on Abel.
We are deep in Rohmer and Truffaut territory—narrators voicing internal thoughts, chamber music on the soundtrack, a sense of timeless suspension in an everyday, non-touristic Paris—and Garrel (son of Philippe) and co-writer Jean-Claude Carrière (a Buñuel veteran) are indeed faithful to their antecedents, giving audiences a contemporary nouvelle vague experience and keeping the proceedings 100% français. (Even the Hollywood noir that Marianne and Abel go out to see is dubbed in French, which would not be the case in an actual Left Bank revival house.*)
A FAITHFUL MAN is a piece of cinematic driftwood, smooth and lovely, kept afloat by its players’ charms. Selfishness and betrayal are expressed and accepted with hushed discretion. Complete happiness is not exactly on the menu, but fidelity to independence, choice, and the freedom to make mistakes is its own reward.