NEW YORK FILM FESTIVAL 2020 REVIEW! Young love is at the crux of thousands of films. However, I have found that French movies about the subject are almost always more interesting. Take the case of The Salt of Tears, directed by Phillipe Garrel and written by Garrel with Jean-Claude Carriere and Arlette Langmann. It masquerades as a simple tale of young love but actually tells a much larger story about life itself, no matter what your age might be.
Luc (Logann Antuofermo) lives with his father (Andre Wilms) in a small town a few hours outside of Paris. For the first time in years, he visits Paris to take an exam for the Boulle school to study furniture-making and joinery, which are his father’s trades. Before going to Boulle, Luc meets a beautiful stranger, Djemila (Oulaya Amamra), on a bus. During the short time that he’s in Paris, the two share a flirtation that doesn’t lead to anything serious, though it leaves an impact on each other.
When Luc returns to his hometown, it isn’t long before he reunites with his girlfriend from high school, Genevieve (Louise Chevillotte). The two have a happy time, and Djemila is seemingly the last thing on Luc’s mind until one day, she calls Luc and comes out to visit him. He pays for her hotel but never shows up. Then, Genevieve announces to Luc that she is pregnant right before moving to attend Boulle. He lets it be known that he doesn’t want the baby. In Paris, he meets the woman he finally can admit he loves, Betsy (Souheila Yacoub), but she can’t only be with one man, so they also live with her “colleague” Paco (Martin Mesnier).
“…young people make mistakes, they need to reconcile to become adults.”
The plot of The Salt of Tears plays out almost like a Grey’s Anatomy episode. Each corner turned, a new bit of drama is uncovered. I found myself extremely frustrated with the characters’ choices, especially Luc’s. I kept wanting not to think he was an a**hole, but he kept doing things that were completely insane. The fact that I cared says a lot about the storytelling. It is the story of a young man, after all, and young people make mistakes, they need to reconcile to become adults.
The women aren’t as three-dimensional as I’d like them to be. This plot is indeed from a man’s point of view, but excluding Betsy, Luc never gets challenged by a woman he’s associated with. Betsy is painted in a negative light because of her stance on relationships. It does kind of make sense if we see things from Luc’s perspective that it would be like this, but it still doesn’t necessarily sit that will with me.
Don’t get me wrong. The movie is well-written by Garrel, Carriere, and Langmann. Cinematographer Renato Berta makes the atmosphere in all of its beautiful simplicity. The acting is fantastic. I think that it could’ve done well with a little bit more sympathy for the female characters. I guess it is a man’s story, though, and I’ll have to accept The Salt of Tears as the male-gaze-driven narrative that it is at face value. Don’t let this detract you from watching the film. It’s worthwhile. Luc is just an extremely frustrating character, but the fact that the film got me so worked up is a testament to its power. So check it out.
The Salt of Tears screened at the 2020 New York Film Festival.
"…kept wanting not to think he was an a**hole, but he kept doing things that were completely insane."