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One would think that the “French film contemplating fidelity” is a genre sufficiently exhausted by now. Yet Philippe Garrel’s NYFF entry Lover for a Day dives straight back into the vagaries of desire and emerges as a meaningful reflection on the subject. It’s the third installment in a loose trilogy about love and, like its predecessors, is beautifully shot in black and white. The film is short for a feature—76 minutes—but Garrel uses his time effectively.

He casts his daughter Esther Garrel as the heartbroken Jeanne, who, after breaking up with her first boyfriend, moves in with her father Gilles (Eric Caravaca) only to discover that his lover Ariane (Louise Chevillote) is a girl her own age, and his student, no less. For a film whose plot is marketed as such, it is surprisingly less about adolescent rivalry than about the girls’ notions of love and the ways all three negotiate complex relationships.

In a scene where Gilles and Ariane plainly discuss their future, Ariane—spontaneous and temperamental—finds herself uncertain as to whether the stable comfort of an older lover might pale in comparison to the impermanence and excitement of romance amongst men her own age. Gilles, while patient with her doubts, declares, “None of that interests me.” The film’s treatment of fidelity is unabashed but also unabashedly critical: we find ourselves dismayed when Ariane cheats on Gilles, twice. Garrel sets one such scene up identically to the first, with the camera closing intimately in on the couple having sex against the wall. It takes a while before we realize the man whose back we see is not Gilles, and when we do, it feels like a betrayal.

Jeanne, meanwhile, is torn between loyalty to her father and—because she is nursing her own heartbreak—the tacit recognition of Ariane’s tumultuous relationship with love itself. It’s an incredibly poignant, if rather confused, meditation on the multiple valences of love and fidelity from an intergenerational perspective.

And as with any film riffing with these notes, some scenes err on the side of over-familiarity. The characters philosophize about love in Parisian coffee shops or on poetic late-night strolls. There’s the too-accidental occurrences of Jeanne finding Ariane in a pornographic magazine, Gilles catching Ariane cheating, Ariane returning home just as Jeanne is about to commit suicide, et cetera. To his credit, Garrel never exploits these scenes for a predictable melodrama. Instead, he shoots each with a remarkable restraint, interspersed occasionally with narration that feels, in comparison, a little heavy-handed—like when it reveals a peculiar unspoken agreement between the girls not to reveal the other’s secrets.

In fact, it seems as though the film’s overtures of emotional catharsis are expunged by the film’s opening sequence. Gilles and Ariane are introduced to the audience with little preamble, by a hurried sex scene in the professor’s bathroom at school (the same one that is compositionally echoed later on), then we cut to Jeanne sobbing so hard she can’t breathe, as she slumps over the front steps of an apartment. Back at her father’s apartment, Jeanne mopes, sprawled across her father’s couch, while the audience watches her alongside Ariane. It’s a delightfully ambiguous scene, while the girls’ attitudes towards one another haven’t quite been defined yet. In the moment, the camera’s every lingering shot is striking.

But by the end of the film, things are back to normal: Gilles is single, and Jeanne has taken up with her ex-boyfriend again. It’s a roundabout journey, but we’re right back where we started. In similar fashion, Lover for a Day doesn’t say a lot that hasn’t been said before, in the director’s previous works or elsewhere. Nevertheless, the way it says it makes this film one worth paying attention to—if only for a day.