The Little Tailor is a film about a young apprentice tailor Arthur who is preparing to take over the business of son pote Albert, an old guy who has no son and heir and talks about his time in the resistance a lot. However he falls in love with a mercurial actress who wants them to leave the country together, and is faced with a choice of loyalties.
Although there is a great diversity to French film, there has existed in the western world two stereotypes relating to them, one is the nonsensical short, such as Un Chien Andalou, the other the absurdly romantic, with perhaps Louis Malle's Les Amants or any one of a number of François Truffaut films being the model, what one might call the "sweet film". Louis Garrel has created a film that, in aesthetic, falls into the second stereotype. He's shot it in black and white as well, which further pigeon-holes the movie, however the reason for this was quite mundane, he doesn't like the quality of light in Paris at night, for him it's too yellow.
Louis Garrel uses voice-overs to provide deeper analysis on the characters, to achieve what he calls philosophic distance, although what he's doing is basically a type of verfremdungseffekt. The provenance of this style is Arnaud Desplechin's ma vie sexuelle - which was Garrel's favourite film at around about the age of twenty - however it is a fairly common trait of sweet films.
The little tailor is what the French call a moyen métrage, basically a film that is between thirty minutes and an hour long. Outside of this trivial definition, it's really more about weight, for example I would classify Rivette's Coup de Berger as a moyen métrage, despite it being two minutes short of the mark. Whereas a short film usually is of the form of an impression, or maybe an experiment (narratively or aesthetically experimental), or relies on shock, and a feature film might be used to delve into "big stories" spanning lives and continents, I would characterise a moyen métrage as being more anecdotal. Unfortunately there exists no sort of traditional marketing strategy for a film like this that I'm aware of, and it seems to be pretty much an unrecognised form outside of France. Garrel has actually mentioned the moyen métrage of François Truffaut, Antoine et Colette, as influential for him.
Garrel seems somewhat unsatisfied with his era, although not an angry filmmaker, and the film is recognisably antiquated in terms of style, for example he acknowledges that the tailor / apprentice workshop situation is not something that you would see nowadays, also he is luxuriating in the chic of the theatre, but acknowledges that this is not where it's at for young Parisians of this era. Just as a poet nowadays who produced an "Ode to the Nightingale" in rhyming iambic pentameter might receive scorn, Garrel potentially sets himself up for criticism here.
Kleist's play Käthchen of Heilbronn is some sort of touchstone for this film, Käthchen being a typically high strung Kleist-ian heroine, and Kleist maybe being at heart a juvenile. The idea may be that both lovers in the movie are emotional amateurs, the right place for each for the time being as apprentices, Arthur with Albert, and Marie-Julie with her director. This a sort of marked divergence from ideas that the current cult of youth produce. I really liked the idea in the film of both lovers having heart arrhythmia, Marie-Julie has a panic attack and Arthur suffers from extrasystole, or palpitations to you and I. It's basically symbolic of not coping, or immaturity, though in a quite beautiful way. Marie-Julie says at one point that she despises Arthur for longing for her, and that love is only a secondary part of men's lives, a very naive view. Arthur is also very naive in the way he responds to what Marie-Julie says, he never listens to her repeated warnings about her character, because he's really a projection for her, or an icon.
Arthur is not an original, one can see in his drawings for example Matisse / Chagall type bird shapes, and he copies dresses. What's maybe to come from his is more maturity, where he'll be in a better position to love.
Louis Garrel is a very forthright individual who is not afraid of opinions, he doesn't show any actual theatre because he says, with theatre, one is either there, or not, you cannot film it. Well Robert Bresson for one has shown audiences watching plays within films, but it's refreshing to watch the film of someone who is so open and opinionated and engaging. He's mentioned for example that he doesn't understand how Albert (actually a non-professional actor who plays a role very similar to real life), can live in France as a Jew, after the country's treatment of them in the Second World War. I can't disagree with a word of that, but it's certainly incendiary.
Some may be interested to know of his father Philippe's influence. Their films are not alike in terms of artistic concerns, however Louis has taken technical advice, and the hotel room photography is very "Garrelian" in aesthetic terms, lots of lighting behind the camera, those scenes reminded me of Le Revelateur.
I'm excited about where his career as director might go, but even if it goes nowhere, this is a gem to keep. I think he's hoping for more, one could consider this a reflexive film, by an individual expecting to grow, much like Xavier Dolan's Amours Imaginaires.