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BERLINALE 2020 Competition

Review: The Salt of Tears


- BERLINALE 2020: In his usual personal style — romantic, bare and suggestive — Philippe Garrel intertwines a discovery of the different facets of love with a father-son relationship

Review: The Salt of Tears
Oulaya Amamra and Logann Antuofermo in The Salt of Tears

Regardless of current trends, of the fashion for dramatic stories, and of the frenesy of the modern and colourful world, French filmmaker Philippe Garrel tirelessly continues to forge his own path as a purist working in black and white, and to refine his psychological study, at a slight remove, of the simplest and most existentialist human emotions, to the point where the entirety of his work will no doubt, in the end, constitute a great cinematic novel.

With The Salt of Tears [+see also:
film profile
, revealed in competition at the 70th Berlinale, the director constructs a new chapter of humble perfection. Enshrined in a subtle construction made of interlocking moments, echoes and repetitions, the film dissects on its surface (and across three parts) the exploration of love by a young seducer floating in an unknown territory. On a deeper level, it looks at the emotional bonds between the young man and his father, and the consequences of carelessness. It’s a contrasted journey through the ephemeral perfumes of young adulthood, exposing the inconsistency and cowardliness of men.

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“All the doors can be opened, your future is at stake”. When Luc (Logann Antuofermo) arrives in Paris, to sit for the woodworking entry exam at Boulle, a famous school for the applied arts, he is carrying with him all the hopes of his father (André Wilms), himself a carpenter. But the young man spends most of his few days there flirting with Djemila (Oulaya Amamra), a young woman he met at a bus stop. There’s kissing and hugging, but no sex, and Luc soon goes back home with a heated and romantic promise: “I will never forget you”. And yet, he soon becomes a liar twice over when Djemila comes to visit him (in vain) because, in the meantime, Geneviève (Louise Chevillotte) has reappeared, a girl who loved him when they were teenagers and who now freely offers herself to him. Does he love her? Nothing is less certain. In any case, he angrily pushes her away when he learns that she is pregnant just as he is about to return to Paris, where he has been accepted into the school. There, he will cross paths with a third woman, the nurse Betsy (Souheila Yacoub), who will dominate him and make him suffer just as much as he made Djemila and Geneviève suffer. All of this under the increasingly distant yet loving eye of his father, who Luc is losing touch with to the point where he will regret it…

The work of a talented craftsman (with a delicate script written by the director together with Arlette Langmann and Jean-Claude Carrière, made even more beautiful by the cinematography of maestro Renato Berta), the non-judgmental moral tale that is The Salt of Tears carries in its heart the essence of life (the rendez-vous, the kisses, the dancing, the embraces) and the shadow of death (the coffin made by a father and his son, the story of the grand-father’s hidden suicide, the abortion, the dimming of feelings, the lies, the cowardliness). “I don’t know anything here” says Luc at the beginning of the film, and it is the thread of this blind sentimental education that Philippe Garrel unwinds, predicting the failures that come when “the angle brackets are missing” and the guidance from the previous generation is ignored or forgotten. A beautiful and elegant lesson of cinema and a modest show of love tainted by melancholy for the memory of a father, the film will please the fans of the director.

Produced by Rectangle, co-produced by Arte France Cinéma and Swiss companies Close Up, RTS and SRG SSR, The Salt of Tears will be released in French cinemas by Ad Vitam on 8 April. International sales are handled by Wild Bunch.

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(Translated from French)

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