“If ever one of us cheats, do we say so?” That line, posited by a character in Philippe Garrel’s Jealousy, is a hypothetical question that most couples tend to ask of each other at a certain point. It’s a question that tends to be at the heart of many films about infidelity and more or less produces the same sort of rote study of relationships. What makes Jealousy so interesting is that it takes this question and indoctrinates it within a dense and specific worldview. It’s the fine details that give Jealousy heft. It’s not a film that’s exclusively about infidelity or fatherhood or its titular subject - it’s about all those things and much more.
The striking opening image is that of a mother weeping as she hears the news that her husband intends on leaving her. Peering through the keyhole of her bedroom is the couple’s daughter, Charlotte (Olga Milshtein). It is a poignant and emotionally heavy scene: a wounded mother, a stern father, and a young observer witnessing the end of a relationship. The film shifts its perspective to that of the father, Louis (played by the director’s son, Louis Garrel). Louis goes on to live with a young actress named Claudia (Anna Mouglalis). The prefacing title card, “I Looked After Angels”, is one of two inserts that captures the mood of the vignette piece. In this portion of the film, Louis’ relationships - with his daughter Charlotte and his girlfriend Claudia - are, through his perspective, ideal. The trajectory of his career as a stage actor is where he wants it to be and while Claudia’s career has stalled, he’s happily complacent with his situation.
Louis’ leisurely living enters a particularly rocky passage as the film progresses and it is here where Philippe Garrel’s measured direction is at its most vital. Whereas most directors may heighten the melodrama, Garrel is careful to keep things contained, almost reserved by traditional standards. Instead of grandiose scenes of histrionics between actors, Garrel centers much of the second portion of the film around the subtle details that outline the end of a relationship. Whereas Louis is apathetic about his living conditions, Claudia is rightly critical of their ability to develop. In one of the film’s most telling lines, Claudia expresses “I can handle being broke, I can’t handle being poor”. The line readings may as well be a throwaway point in their conversations, but it possesses resonance as the picture delicately proceeds to its finale.
The screenplay’s penchant for specificity is also captured through Charlotte’s character, who serves as Garrel’s proxy through much of this autobiographical effort. Her mischievous antics are compounded by her doe-eyed moments of observation - there are sequences riddled throughout the film where you can see her straining to make sense of the complicated relationships between her mother, father, and Claudia. This sense of innocence gives Jealousy a direct sense of immediacy, whereby the understandable but ultimately toxic relationships that she observes are shaping her worldview, and our own.