Helluva lot of truth in Philippe Garrel’s In the Shadow of Women, a scintillating comedy of doomed romances and male egocentrism. The film details the life of Parisian documentary filmmaker Pierre (Stanislas Merhar) and his editor/producer wife Manon (Clotilde Courau). Still awaiting their big break, the duo lives in squalor as they attempt to finish a documentary on an aged Resistance fighter. The moving components aren’t all too dissimilar from Noah Baumbach’s recent While We’re Young, though Garrel’s ambitions take aim at the perfidious entitlement that masculinity affords Pierre. Quiescent Pierre meets Elisabeth (Lena Paugam), an intern working at a film lab and his affable – if not absent – personality quickly wins her over. Balancing two women, Pierre’s infidelity is glibly justified as a rite of his manhood, whereby the pleasurable thrills of Elisabeth are needed to balance the warm domesticity of Manon.
Pierre’s circular logic of self-validation is compromised when it’s uncovered that Manon, too, is cheating. Garrel unearths a lot of humor through this discovery largely as it feeds into more contradictory acts of self-delusion– where Pierre’s bruised ego prompts acts of paranoia and distrust in Manon. The findings here seem more in line with a Woody Allen film then Garrel, but Garrel is softer to the touch, taking perverse interest in his character’s casuistry. As a result, Garrel’s insights accumulate over the film’s brisk 70ish minute runtime, capped off by a shrug of Parisian disinterest rather than attempting to embody some aphoristic certainty. Yet that’s precisely what Garrel achieves: in these banalities, Garrel exposes with startling nuance what it means to be man and the fantasies we conjure.