Is marital fidelity possible when you're bohemian, French and a character in a Philippe Garrel movie? Offering further evidence to the contrary is the director's latest broody musing on life, art and l'amour.
Like his previous feature, "Jealousy," the film is shot in sumptuous black-and-white and revolves around artistic Parisians. But in its elegant almost threadbare simplicity, it's a more effective story, anchored by three persuasive performances and a sly sense of irony.
The voice-over narration (delivered by the director's son, Louis Garrel) is deceptively pared down and blunt. It serves in part as a pseudo-confession for documentary filmmaker Pierre (Stanislas Merhar), and one that's not meant to endear him to the audience. Holding strong to an astoundingly retrograde double standard, the handsome and maddeningly taciturn Pierre knows that cheating on Manon (Clotilde Courau), his supportive wife (and script supervisor), makes him something of a jerk. He also believes that he has no choice in the matter "because I'm a man."
For all the characters, such certitude is undermined by emotion. Pierre's mistress, Elisabeth (Lena Paugam, making her feature debut), shrugs with cheerful indifference when she learns he's married, but soon she's compulsively spying on him. The spirited Manon's equanimity isn't quite what it seems, either.
When an elderly man faces Pierre's camera to recount his role in the Resistance, his cookie-baking wife is relegated to the corner. If she seems unimpressed, the movie's final, very fine twist might explain why. The men in "In the Shadow of Women" tell the stories. The women know the truth.