NYFF Film Review: ‘Lover for a Day’ Elevates Its Sitcom Premise

2017 New York Film Festival: With just a few changes, the “Lover for a Day” screenplay could easily be turned into a long episode of a sitcom. After all, any story centered on a woman, her father, and a girlfriend of the same age screams situation comedy. French filmmaker Philippe Garrel is resolutely opposed to something so easily classified, however. As such, this movie here at the New York Film Festival is artful, contemplative, and a decidedly independent romantic dramedy. There are occasional comedic moments, but laughter is not the first thing on its mind. Furthermore, the priority here is the nature of love. No sitcom has that on its plate, that’s for sure.

“Lover for a Day” keeps things short and (bitter)sweet, treading a familiar path. Still, it does it to the beat of its own drummer. It’s pretty easy to guess what comes next, plot-wise, but there’s a compelling feel to watching it all unfold. Solid performances, a sense of romance, crisp black and white cinematography, and an indie French vibe help make this worthwhile. What could have been trite and cringe-worthy is instead elevated.

Jeanne (Esther Garrel) has just had her heart broken by a now ex boyfriend and seeks comfort in the home of her father, the college professor Gilles (Eric Caravaca). He welcomes her, though as we see in an opening scene, he’s currently engaged in a passionate relationship with lustful former student Ariane (Louise Chevillotte). To make things even more uncomfortable for Jeanne, not only is Ariane living with Gilles, she’s the same age as her. What slowly becomes apparent is that the women will be competing for Gilles’ affection and attention. Obviously, that’s not a recipe for a healthy household, and things begin to affect each in different ways.

The main trio all turn in solid work, creating various forms of chemistry with each other. They help form the mood that lets “Lover for a Day” succeed. Esther Garrel (the director’s daughter) portrays an often manic yet wildly sympathetic character. Her expressions are often incredible in their awkwardness. Eric Caravaca crafts someone a bit aloof, though someone who clearly has a lot of love to share in his life. As for Louise Chevillotte, she’s best in show, turning in work as someone wise beyond her years, regardless of her high sex drive. The three are all impressive. Other small turns here include Félix Kysyl, Marie Sergeant, and Paul Toucang, to name a few.

Co-writer/director Philippe Garrel deserves a lot of credit for avoiding overt cliches. Sure, the plot is familiar, but Garrel and co-scribes Jean-Claude Carrière, Caroline Deruas-Garrel, and Arlette Langmann lean into a contemplative feel. Again, no points for originality, but the emotions just work. Father/daughter love, as well as May/December romance, are tackled without any cynicism here. Add in the classic black and white cinematography by Renato Berta and Garrel has a unique look for the material. The movie may end up going exactly where you think it might, but you’ll want to spend the 76 minutes with these three individuals.

If you enjoy French cinema, “Lover for a Day” very well might be for you. NYFF often loves this sort of thing, so it’s an annual tradition at the fest. This is a 2018 release, so it’ll take some time before it moves from a festival environment to general release, but it’s worth looking out for. Garrel fans, in particular, will appreciate how this is a different meditation on the nature of love from the director. It’s a small film, but a very rewarding one.

“Lover for a Day” will screen at the New York Film Festival on Oct. 10 and will be released in theaters by MUBI on January 19.

GRADE: (★★★)