Review: Garrel's IN THE SHADOW OF WOMEN Finds Infidelity Is An Equal Opportunity Offender

Lead Critic; Brooklyn, New York (@floatingartist)
Review: Garrel's IN THE SHADOW OF WOMEN Finds Infidelity Is An Equal Opportunity Offender
Philippe Garrel, known for making films about deeply self-reflexive romantic entanglements since the late 60s, is at it again with In the Shadows of Women. Infidelity, art, improvisation, one-take scenes, shot in monochrome on film and natural settings have been Garrel's MO and although his new film certainly encompasses all those elements, it seems much more concise and less ambiguous and melancholic than his other films, thanks to its script.

What's different here is his emphasis on looking at love and romance from a female perspective. Famed screenwriter Jean-Claude Carrière (Discreet Charm of Bourgeoisie, Tin Drum, Every Man for Himself, Birth) joined in with Garrel's regular writing partners -- Caroline Deruas and Arlette Langman -- to write a script that represents the female point of view, as the title suggests. The result is another slight yet delicious, nuanced psychological drama.

Pierre (Stanislas Merhar of many Chantal Akerman films) and Manon (Clotilde Courau) are a middle aged, poor documenatary filmmaker couple Pierre directing and Manon assisting. Manon has been completely devoted to her husband's artistic endeavors and believes in his talent. He is working on a documentary about resistance fighters during WW2, interviewing survivors who may or may not be real heros. The matter of fact narration reiterates the fact that Manon is living in her husband's shadows. 

Pierre is an introspective, thoughtful man who can be totally aloof and blind on other life matters, especially when it comes to Manon's needs. He starts an affair with Elisabeth (Lena Paugam),an attractive intern at a film archive. And things get a bit complicated when Elisabeth starts spying on the couple and discovers that Manon is being unfaithful to Pierre as well. Pierre, justifying his infidelity to himself as 'male archetype thing to do,' can't accept the fact that his wife is cheating on him.

There is nothing remarkable about the premise of In the Shadows of Women. But it is interesting to see Garrel not using his hunky son (Louis Garrel) and other attractive young actresses to portray lovers in distress but enlisting older actors to play same romantic predicaments, illustrating that no matter what your age is, love and romance can make a fool of anyone. And except for the presence of cell phones, the film could easily be taking place in the 60s.

Merhar, who hasn't aged a bit in the last 20 years and still possesses naiveté and thoughtfulness in his eyes, is perfect for the role of Pierre. He assumes the difficult role of a man who is confused when the masculinity he took for granted and his idea of women's roles in society has turned upside down. Courau is beguiling as a frustrated wife of an underachiever looking for happiness in her life. Paugam's unassuming beauty and intelligence suits the role of Elisabeth very well and is in tune with Garrel heroines. Even though the film centers around Pierre, In the Shadow of Women ultimately belongs to Cortilde, as she realizes the folly of 'men', thanks to a very well balanced script.

In the Shadow of Women might not be Garrel's best film, but it's good to see him quietly charting new territories in his ever so small, highly out of fashion, romantic entanglement oeuvre and I applaud him for it.

In the Shadow of Women opens theatrically on January 15 in New York, other cities will follow. Please visit Distrib Films website for more info.

Dustin Chang is a freelance writer. His musings and opinions on the world can be found at

In the Shadow of Women

  • Philippe Garrel
  • Jean-Claude Carrière (scenario)
  • Caroline Deruas-Garrel (scenario)
  • Arlette Langmann (scenario)
  • Philippe Garrel (scenario)
  • Clotilde Courau
  • Stanislas Merhar
  • Lena Paugam
  • Vimala Pons
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Philippe GarrelJean-Claude CarrièreCaroline Deruas-GarrelArlette LangmannClotilde CourauStanislas MerharLena PaugamVimala PonsDrama

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