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L’enfant secret

(The Secret Child)
France 1979. Dir: Philippe Garrel. 92 min. DCP

The films of Philippe Garrel mutated from abstract, underground experiments to full-fledged narrative features with 1979’s remarkable L’enfant secret, winner of the Prix Jean Vigo for its formal daring and independence of spirit. Shot in the wake of Garrel’s split with Nico, his long-time partner and perennial muse, this nakedly autobiographical two-hander features Robert Bresson “models” Anne Wiazemsky (Au hasard Balthazar) and Henri de Maublanc (Le diable probablement) as Elie and Jean-Baptiste, two tightly tethered lovers who gradually, painfully come apart amid poverty, drug addiction, and mental breakdown. Elie’s young, fatherless son, modelled after Nico’s “secret” son with French actor Alain Delon, is ostensibly the film’s titular child, but the open, confessional candor of the material suggests that it might be Garrel’s film itself. The casting of Wiazemsky as a romantic stand-in naturally recalls her work with ex-husband Jean-Luc Godard, for whom art and life were inextricable.

REVIEWS

"A revelation, and remains so today: a film so painfully intimate, so close to the fluxes and flows of the unconscious mind, that spectators can feel like they are dreaming it into existence."

Sight & Sound | full review

"Mr. Garrel’s work has a unique aesthetic that today’s American cinephiles seem to be hungry for ... The loose ends, the ragged edges, the awkward cuts: Here they’re like the angry low-fi communication of a postpunk song, desperate in its constricted ability to evoke the ineffable."

New York Times | full review