Film Review: Les Hautes Solitudes

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“The idea was to make a film out of the outtakes of a film that never existed in the first place.” And that’s about as much explanation director Philippe Garrel gives about Les Hautes Solitudes, which was made in 1974 when he was 26. This black-and-white film—without dialogue or sound, maddeningly so—shows the strong and dramatically dire influence of Andy Warhol, with his pioneering 1960s efforts in cinematic stultification, when his listless, jaded camera endlessly scanned the deadpan, exotic faces from his famed Factory. In fact, a literal protégée of Warhol’s, Nico, is in the cast, but her small role is, like the movie itself, fairly impenetrable.

What—between yawns—one is able to extricate plot-wise here is that Jean Seberg is a well-to-do woman who is deeply unhappy and tries to off herself with a handful of pills that are wrested from her by Tina Aumont, who appears either to be a friend or a fancy paid companion of some sort. Some critics have pointed out the fact that many shots in the film—especially of Seberg—resemble stations of the cross or even Dreyer’s Passion of Joan of Arc, with the great, mysterious, crazy and tragic Maria Falconetti.

The plot and exact intention of the film may be elusive, but there’s no denying that it stands as an elegiac visual glorification and tribute to women, their fascination and their beauty. It’s unfortunate, though, that any irresistibly alluring quality of Nico’s sufficient to make her a regular at the court of Warhol in its heyday completely eludes Garrel’s camera, although Aumont—daughter of Maria Montez and Jean-Pierre Aumont—looks fantastic, much more delicate and haunting than her mom. And then there’s Seberg, who had reinvented herself from the ingénue plucked out of obscurity by Otto Preminger to be his critically disastrous Joan of Arc by moving to France and making one of its most emblematic New Wave movies, Breathless. With her flawless Midwestern flower of a face, uncanny poise and undeniable X factor, Seberg is indeed a great camera subject and fully up to challenge of being ultimately iconized. She evidently brought a lot to this character, and dictated a lot of what it should be in the first place, coming up with the idea of the pills, which evidently shocked Garrel, as he would be again when in 1979 she committed suicide, a victim of disfavor from Hoover’s FBI for her deep personal involvement with the Black Panthers. In the later years of her all-too brief 40-year lifetime, she was defamed in the press, continually stalked, and her home wiretapped and broken into. Her decomposing body was found in the back seat of her car, parked near her apartment, with a bottle of barbiturates and a note: “Forgive me. I can no longer live with my nerves.”

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