A frustratingly not-terrible action thriller.
“Sorry, my love. I bit you.”
These are the final words in Philippe Garrel’s romantic drama “In the Shadow of Women,” which a philandering filmmaker speaks to his estranged wife during a sudden, emotional embrace. He means them literally—he gives her cheek an accidental nibble in the midst of the clutch—but they could apply figuratively, as well. And she could have said them to him instead and they would have been just as fitting, given the damage both husband and wife have afflicted on each other.
Nothing is simple emotionally in the latest from the French New Wave veteran, although he tells his story briefly and with striking directness in gorgeous, high-contrast black and white. Garrel may not be saying anything new about the capricious whims of the heart, but he does so with a purity of narrative and tone, and with thoroughly convincing performances from his stars.
When we first meet Pierre (Stanislas Merhar) and Manon (Clotilde Courau), they seem to have achieved a satisfying life together which mixes work and love. He’s a documentarian working on a film about the French resistance during World War II; she works part-time to have the flexibility to help him with his projects. They live in a shabby Paris apartment they can barely afford (the landlord storms in demanding overdue rent at the film’s start) but otherwise, they appear genuinely content. Garrel observes their daily rhythms in matter-of-fact fashion, hopping from one slice of life to the next without fanfare and often without dialogue.