It takes a few beats to get through the quaint setup in “The S of Tears” and recognize its protagonist is an asshole. That's Luc sullen newcomer Logann Antuofermo, the young aspiring cabinetmaker at the center of French director Philippe Garrel's latest stab at generational angst and ill-fated love. Over the course of this spry black-and-white sketch of a movie, Luc seduces one woman, rekindles love with another, and rejects them both for a third before everything finally collapses on top of him. There's not a lot of sophistication to Luc's arc, as his self-centered universe of problems accelerates to grating extremes, but “The S of Tears” generates a cumulative sense of intrigue around the potential that its noxious heartbreaker might eventually reach his comeuppance.
Few filmmakers have held as tight to their themes as Garrel, who has cranked out intimate portraits of young men doomed by delusions of romantic grandeur for decades. Though the filmmaker technically completed his so-called “trilogy of love” with 2017's “Lover for a Day,” it may as well be a tetralogy: As with those modest works, “The S of Tears” is a concise, minor-key character study that's less satisfying in small doses than when the full picture comes together.
As the movie begins, Luc has traveled from his country home to Paris to gain his certification in cabinetmaking, and decides to make overtures to Djemila Oulaya Amamra after she gives him directions on the bus. A few flirtatious sessions later and Luc nearly seals the deal, until Djemila tries to slow things down, and it's clear he has no interest in the long-term approach. Nevertheless, the relationship has potential — at least until Luc finds another distraction. Back home, he spends time with his supportive father a warm André Wilms, and the big-hearted gentleman sees in his son the potential he never achieved for himself.
However, while Luc may be on track to please his father, he can't seem to get his priorities straight: A chance encounter with his old high school girlfriend Geneviéve Louise Chevillotte finds the pair instantly back in the saddle, with a bathtub sex scene that enters the plot so quickly it borders on ludicrous — but then, Luc's a reckless guy who doesn't think twice about the ramifications of his actions. With Djemila planning to visit him in the countryside and Geneviéve eager to settle down, Luc's suddenly trapped in a thorny love triangle of his own making, and his ensuing decisions just make a bad situation even worse.
Yes, yes, cry him a river. Lovesick dudes aren't exactly in vogue these days, and “The S of Tears” shortchanges its various women by relegating them to supporting roles in its crude antihero's life. With time, however, that becomes the whole point. While “The S of Tears” threatens to devolve into a sympathetic male gaze with each new turn, Garrel actually manages to burrow within those boundaries and deconstruct their flaws from the inside out.
Moving to Paris to pursue his new professional life, Luc falls for a third woman, the individualistic Betsy Souheila Yacoub, who lives and sometimes sleeps with her roommate Paco Martin Mesnier and manages to dominate him in ways that his previous attractions didn't. Garrel settles into a compelling groove with this unusual passage, as Luc's freewheeling party life — including a jubilant dance club sequence that drags on for several minutes — briefly allows him to feel as if he's found his sweet spot. But the specter of responsibility comes back to haunt him from several directions, and a come-to-Jesus moment with his concerned pop brings the true nature of the story into focus: Luc's desire to live without consequence isn't just a fantasy; it's a disease.
Veteran cinematographer Renato Berta's crisp imagery enhances Luc's tendency to view things in black-and-white himself: Each woman presents an opportunity until he sees another one elsewhere. However, Garrel often underplays his rich themes with an onslaught of lighthearted flourishes, from the grating piano score that drifts into various scenes to the dry voiceover that often intrudes on them. But there's an undeniable allure to the way the movie hovers in an ambiguous space between Luc's passions and their problematic connotations.
From time to time, he's forced out of his spell — in one telling moment, he follows a new woman on the street, only to be rebuffed when she threatens to call the police — and “The S of Tears” shows more self-awareness than Garrel might want to let on. For the most part, however, this understated look at toxic masculinity suggests a feature-length cultural reckoning with dated romantic tropes: Luc's more symbol than man, a stereotypical lover coming to grips with the idea that some stereotypes just don't age well.
“The S of Tears” premiered at the 2020 Berlin Film Festival. It is currently seeking U.S. distribution.
SPOILER ALERT: If you are among the few who haven’t actually watched Netflix’s Tiger King docuseries, this review contains a lot of details about what goes down in the sad big cat saga.
With Netflix poised in the coming days to cash in and crank the base up a notch with more Tiger King, it's time to come out and say it: I hate the Red State porn that is the crash and burn of Joe Exotic
The initial seven episodes of this septic and shallow patchwork of trademark infringement, sex, guns, labor exploitation, song, drugs, mullets, betrayal, animal activism, revenge, and a lot of big cats may be much binged over these weeks of coronavirus lockdown, but that doesn't mean it's actually worth watching.
Now, I get it, I sound like I'm just a dour critic who hates anything that isn't prestige premium cable or aspirational. C'mon man, you want to say, Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness is just so unbelievable, I can't look away.
I respectfully disagree, and in fact, propose Tiger King isn't just bad, but dangerous in a divided America persistently looking to reduce the other side to caricature.
In a presently ailing nation where TV is more voluminous and vital than ever, the truth is the March 20 launched Tiger King is a clawed white trash misery index. Gawking at some clearly fragile and damaged people like would-be reality TV star Exotic and their below the Mason-Dixon line antics, the series subsequently provides a cultural circus for those smug bicoastals under stay at home orders and screaming to rise up in moral superiority.
Essentially, the tale of big cat collector, self-styled Oklahoma zoo proprietor and 2016 Presidential candidate Exotic AKA Joseph Maldonado-Passage and his ultimately unsuccessful attempt to have rival Carole Baskin knocked off by a hitman hired for $3,000, Tiger King is in that context more a zero-sum game, literally and figuratively, than hitting the zeitgeist.
Obviously, Netflix are pretty damn good at gauging and dragging the public mood over the years, as the likes of the then phenomenon of 2015's Making A Murderer or 2018’s Wild Wild Country prove. Yet, for all the attention it has drawn, this unfocused murder for hire exploration of sorts emerges as a bastard child of Cops, a million Dateline segments from the 1990s and Fox’s short-lived Murder in Small Town X reality show from 2001.
Not exactly the prestige product that the home of Roma, The Irishman and American Factory likes to brag about at award shows. Then again, with the knowledge that the Romans sold out the Colosseum every night feeding Christians to the lions, the bottom line based House of Hastings surely loves the subscription sign up that the currently incarcerated Maldonado-Passage and the accompanying motley gaggle of...