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“Regular Lovers,” “Sansho the Bailiff”

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By Michael Atkinson

IFC News

[Photo: “Regular Lovers,” Zeitgeist Films, 2007]

As much as I would’ve liked to have been, I wasn’t in Paris in May of 1968, when the student strikes broke out and burned all the more brightly the more they were suppressed by police violence, when labor unions joined in and virtually shut the country down, and when Molotov cocktail revolt filled the middle-class streets in a heretofore unprecedented Zeitgeist of resistance to the exploitations of state power. But it’s been such a lavishly, lovingly depicted cultural moment in movies that sometimes I feel as if I had indeed been there, manning the barricades. (Call it, in retrospect, the Woodstock of France.) Still, May ’68 awaited its definitive film portrait until the arrival of Philippe Garrel’s “Regular Lovers” in 2005. (It opened here in January.) The movie is in fact more of an impressionistic personal meditation on the place and time than an outright historical film. But the feeling of the era, the cataclysmic, romantic, liberating and finally tragically disillusioned emotional thrust of resistance, coupled with the electric sense of being 19, sexually alive, responsibility free and ready to dope up and drop out — all of it seeps out of this neglected three-hour epic like fragrance from a valley of lilacs.

Garrel, of course, had been there — having begun as a young experimental filmmaker in the ’60s, he rode shotgun along with the New Wavers (literally, in 1968 at the age of 19, shooting scenes in the streets with Godard), never attaining their international profiles but consistently producing challenging, eccentric work at home. (“Regular Lovers” is, as far as I can ascertain, his first film to be distributed in the U.S.) “Regular Lovers” has the burning conviction of firsthand experience, and it’s hardly a coincidence that Garrel cast his own son, Louis, as his laconic, lovelorn protagonist. Garrel fils was also the co-star of Bernardo Bertolucci’s silly May ’68 valentine “The Dreamers” two years earlier — and given Garrel père‘s history of prickly recalcitrance, it’s possible that Bertolucci getting so much wrong in his film largely inspired Garrel to get it right.

The film meanders in the young Garrel’s shadow as he wanders through a demimonde of wealthy college kids and, soon enough, the Night of the Barricades, filmed in inky black-and-white by master D.P. William Lubtchansky in a nearly hour-long idyll, as if the revolution was caught in suspended animation. From there, the film evokes the post-revolutionary hangover, as Garrel’s François begins a wary romance with Lilie (the radiantly ordinary Clothilde Hesme); together, they are born icons of post-adolescent cool, but just as insurrectionary fervor wanes under the glare of the workaday sun, so does their love. It’s a heartbreaking film, but not because it tells you so. Like the best of the French going back to Renoir, the filmmaker locates three-dimensional pathos and beauty in simple images, acts and gestures, captured honestly and without bullshit: a dance party, getting high in a rich family’s apartment, wandering through the strangely empty morning streets as if the couple were the survivors of a holocaust. An ambitious, grown-up, old-school art film, “Regular Lovers” (such a humdrum title) may be so far the best film of 2007.

Then there’s real old school: Kenji Mizoguchi’s “Sansho the Bailiff” (1954), a must-have, must-see film culture classic that, up to now, had only been available in godawful public domain video copies and war-trodden 16mm prints. If that’s how you’ve seen it — and not, perchance, in the 2005 retro that roamed the country’s retro screens — then you haven’t seen it at all. The new Criterion edition is jewel-like and breathtaking, which simply makes the classic fable — in warlord-run medieval Japan, a railroaded governor’s wife and children are waylaid on a journey and sold into slavery — all the more devastating. No other film so carefully interrogates how tragic injustice plays out over years of life. (It’s not a film you should sit down to lightly; keep hankies, oxygen and ice water close at hand.) Mizoguchi, semi-forgotten today and the peer to Ozu if not the superior to Kurosawa as well, is hopefully on his way to being reinstituted as a cultural giant worldwide. Of course, the DVD package is fiercely reverent, buttressed with new interviews, scholarly exegesis, a new essay of things Mizoguchian and two versions of the original narrative: the 1915 short story by author Ogai Mori, and a transcribed version of an earlier version, from when it was merely an oral folktale. All told, it’s justice done.

“Regular Lovers” (Zeitgeist) and “Sansho the Bailiff” (Criterion) will be available on DVD May 22nd.

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The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at

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Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

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Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

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