Veteran film-maker Philippe Garrel gives us a new movie in the classic black-and-white Parisian style, co-written by him with two titans of the French industry, Jean-Claude Carrière and Arlette Langmann. It is a watchable, insouciant love story with some great incidental performances, although there is a sense of the shark being jumped 30 minutes from the end. The tears involved are incidentally shed by female characters, not the young male lead, although the excellent veteran André Wilms has a moving, emotional moment.
Newcomer Logann Antuofermo plays Luc, a good-looking young guy living out in the sticks with his old dad (a lovely performance from Wilms), who is a carpenter. Luc too is studying to be a carpenter and has an interview with a prestigious joinery school in Paris. It is, incidentally, refreshing that it is cabinetmaking he has come to Paris to study and not film or philosophy, and does not intend to have impassioned conversations on the subject, though joinery is evidently in any case not a subject amenable to late-night booze-fuelled theoretical debate.
While in Paris, the irrepressible Luc chats up a delicately beautiful young woman he meets on a bus, Djemila (Oulaya Amamra), but back in his hometown he gets back together with his former high-school girlfriend Genevieve (Louise Chevillotte). Luc behaves very badly with both these women, and once established in Paris has a relationship with someone called Betsy (Souheila Yacoub) who serves karmic justice on his cheating heart. She more or less forces him to live in a polyamorous ménage with another boy that she loves.
And so this film bowls entertainingly along in its sexily sophisticated way, although I found myself hoping for something revelatory, or cathartic, in its final act, and this is not forthcoming. In a way, it is a shame that Amamra isn’t in this film a lot more, and indeed the same goes for Chevillotte; it certainly goes for Wilms who is excellent. It is very touching when he bursts into tears of pride when Luc receives his acceptance letter, and he admits that some of his tears are of sadness that he himself never achieved anything similar in his own youth.
But the emphasis is always on the conceited and unlovely figure of Luc who never really grows in the course of the film; in fact he rejects Djemila and Genevieve, the very people who could have helped him to grow.
The Salt of Tears is a film which could have been made by the French industry any time in the last three or four decades, and none the worse for that, and Garrel is a master craftsman of this kind of movie language which, however flawed, indulgent and disposable, does treat its audience like adults.