The Salt of Tears (Le Sel des Larmes)
Where to start with this wretched film? Listing a set of moral objections could be useful, although the tone-deaf misogyny and Philippe Garrel’s lecherous direction are secondary to the narrative and artistic shortcomings. The flattering commitment to the cipherous lead character, the telegraphed revelations that are paradoxically without set-up, the affected black and white stylings, the incidental melancholy piano, the perfunctory omniscience: these amount to a constitution of low-level irritation, a topography of wrongheaded self-importance.
Luc (Logann Antuofermo) is a young lothario discovering love and pleasure in the bright lights of Paris. This is presented in the classic French tradition of Flaubert, articulating the sentimental education of late, late adolescence. He wants to succeed as a cabinetmaker, to learn a more sophisticated trade than his father (André Wilms), a joiner. Amid his incipient learnings, Luc variously pesters and charms a series of young women, sequentially played by Oulaya Amamra, Louise Chevillotte and Souheila Yacoub. He’s generally unreliable and self-involved, but to suggest any further description might imply that he is a developed character. His apparent narrative inadequacy requires sporadic supplementation from an anonymous voiceover, which has to deliver perplexing banalities like: “They withdrew to the bathroom while the owners had lunch.”
Our vacant Casanova has great respect for his father, at least, and from this relationship the film aspires to pathos. Luc’s ill-treatment of women is sympathetically rendered as a product of his coming-of-age, which could be fair exploration if only the framing of his exploits wasn’t so simpering and obsequious. Luc’s sexual comeuppance seems to consist of sharing one of his lovers in a cramped domestic set-up, a notion much less radical than Garrel probably thinks. This speaks to the screenplay’s general thoughtlessness. A racist confrontation is arbitrarily imposed onto a scene, presumably for the purposes of tokenistic commentary. The entire work is beset with this kind of myopia.
The case for the defence is barren. Deeply uncomfortable scenes of street stalking are in some way effective. And if it is in fact a deadpan depiction of a dodgy bloke, The Salt of Tears is working on a subliminal level beyond the critical faculties of this reviewer. Cineastes may spot subversions and indulgences of French New Wave tropes. More noticeable is the compromised approach to time. Set in and around 2019, the plot functions as if technology barely exists. Meeting spots are written on palms, people can’t be contacted by phone: it forms a sort of risible nostalgia. Perhaps in that lies the appeal: nothing lives or breathes but a sense of working within long-held cinematic traditions. Why moralise upon it, then? Because this retrograde bobbins fails on its own terms.
The Salt of Tears (Le Sel des Larmes) does not have a UK release date yet.
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Watch the trailer for The Salt of Tears (Le Sel des Larmes) here: