13 June 2017 | MOscarbradley
"We didn't need words, we had faces then"
Philippe Garrel is one of the enfants terribles of world cinema. At times you might describe his films as 'anti-cinema', like a terrorist's attack on the medium. Shot entirely in silence and in a kind of scratchy black and white "Les Hautes Solitudes" could best be described as a meditation on the nature of celebrity or perhaps on pain or on the concept of 'cinema' itself, that one on one experience of sitting in the dark in a building we call 'a cinema' or even in our living rooms, interpreting in our mind the images in front of us.
Cinema is an entirely personal experience. What one person might love about a film another will hate; sometimes even discerning what a film is about will differ from person to person. "Les Hautes Solitudes", it seems to me, was made for no-one other than Garrel and perhaps his 'star', if 'star' is the correct term here, who happens, in this case, to be Jean Seberg.
Seberg, as any cineaste will know, was an American actress who, at the age of nineteen was cast as Joan of Arc in Preminger's film of "Saint Joan". It was a disastrous piece of miscasting as Seberg, a natural beauty, seemed to have no discernible acting talent, certainly not enough to carry off such a demanding role. However, it was said that Seberg was not only Preminger's protégé but also his lover and he cast her again as Cecile in his film of Francoise Sagan's "Bonjour Tristesse". This time the casting was perfect and Seberg was superb as the spoiled, willful woman-child who goes out of her way to destroy her father's romance. A couple more films of little distinction followed then Seberg returned to France and to "A Bout de Soufflé". The role, her performance and the film itself are iconic. Whatever her limitations as an actress, in the right part and with the right director Seberg could be extraordinary. Perhaps her greatest performance was again as the willful, destructive and mentally unstable "Lilith" in Robert Rossen's film of J.R. Salamanca's novel but by then it was clear that Seberg had her own demons. Her marriage to the writer Romain Gary would end in divorce in 1970 and though she remarried the actor and director Dennis Berry, her name was linked to the Black Panthers and she was 'investigated' by the FBI. She died in Paris in 1979 'under mysterious circumstances', a probable suicide.
Garrel shot "Les Hautes Solitudes" three years before Seberg's death. As I said, this silent picture concentrates largely on Seberg's face and on the faces of 'co-stars' Tina Aumont and Nico and is nothing more than a plot less series of images like out-takes from an altogether different film dealing, perhaps, with a young woman's descent into madness or perhaps simply from a documentary about Seberg's descent into madness where she is cared for by the actress Tina Aumont. Since there is no soundtrack of any kind we can only judge by what we see. We, the individual members of the audience, are left to make up our own minds on what Garrel's film is 'about'. Ironically, Garrel's concentration on Seberg's face reminded me of Carl Dreyer's concentration on the face of Falconetti in his silent masterpiece "The Passion of Joan of Arc" as if Garrel was paying some kind of conscious tribute to the role that launched Seberg's career. It also seems to me that films don't have to be 'about' anything and that we can certainly do without sound. As Norma Desmond said, "We didn't need words, we had faces then" and again, whatever their limitations as 'actresses' the faces of Seberg, Aumont and indeed Nico are among the most expressive ever put in film.