Jealousy, directed by Philippe Garrel, lives up to its title by considering jealousy in all its painful glory

Sometimes a one-word title doesn’t tell you much about a film, but sometimes — Todd Solondz’ 1998 feature Happiness, of course, being a prime example — that single word can be downright duplicitous. For better or worse, truth in advertising laws don’t apply to the movie business, and a one-word moniker can lead even the canniest of viewers astray.

And then, of course, there are films like Philippe Garrel’s La Jalousie (Jealousy). Opening on Friday, Sept. 26 at Rialto Cinemas Elmwood, Jealousy’s title bluntly describes exactly what you’re about to see on screen, in all its painful glory.

Jealousy begins with a heartbreaking close-up of a woman learning that her man is about to leave her. Trembling slightly, tears rolling down her cheeks, she is Clothilde (Rebecca Convenant); he, Louis (director’s son Louis Garrel) a tousle-headed stage actor with a mop of dark curls and a way with the ladies.

His new woman is Claudia (Anna Mouglalis), a struggling actress who hasn’t had a job in six years. She and Louis move into a stereotypically seedy Paris garret, and at first enjoy idyllic times together. Soon enough, though, Louis’ eye begins to wander once again.

Indeed, Louis seems willing to flirt with almost any woman that passes him by – including a total stranger he meets when he takes daughter Charlotte (Olga Milshtein) to see the children’s film Ernest and Celestine. Furtively holding the woman’s hand in the darkness and getting her phone number afterwards, Louis seems oblivious to embarrassment, his insouciance exemplified when he immediately tears up the slip of paper bearing the number of his latest conquest.

Little Charlotte seems quite used to Louis’ games. She loves her mother Clothilde (who she lives with), is fond of Claudia (who gifts her with a beanie and a purloined lollipop), and seems more amused than upset about Dad’s movie house flirtation. This is an act she’s grown up with; it’s clearly nothing out of the ordinary.

Louis, however, doesn’t appreciate having the tables turned on him. When Claudia comes home late one night after an evening out with friends, he’s unhappy not to have been kept informed of her plans – and when she finds a spacious new apartment for them through the good graces of a male friend (who may or may not be a bit more than a friend), his jealousy becomes more than she can stand.

Jealousy’s story — written by a two-man, two-woman team — suggests none too subtly that traditional definitions of masculinity still hold sway in the world of French theatre. Despite being the epitome of the male chauvinist pig, however, one almost pities the clueless Louis: as he states succinctly to Claire, “Imagining you with a guy hurts. Why are you trying to hurt me?”

Shot in widescreen black and white (on Eastman film stock, no less) by veteran cinematographer Willy Kurant (among many other films, he shot Masculin Feminin for Jean-Luc Godard), Jealousy also features a gorgeous pastoral score – primarily for piano, acoustic guitar, and flute – by Jean-Louis Aubert. It’s a beautifully made film; affecting, brief, and to the point.

Berkeleyside’s film writer John Seal writes a weekly movie recommendation column at Box Office Prophets, as well as a column in The Phantom of the Movies’ Videoscope, an old-fashioned paper magazine, published quarterly. Read more from Big Screen Berkeley on Berkeleyside.

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Freelancer John Seal is Berkeleyside’s film critic. A movie connoisseur with a penchant for natty hats who lives in Oakland, John writes a weekly film recommendation column at Box Office Prophets, as...