Lover for a Day is a rather vapid and forgettable piece of cinema.
Lover for a Day is a film about adult relationships, both romantic and familial, but with a focus on the former. As with director Philippe Garrel’s other films, the central themes are romantic fidelity and jealousy. The film is small in a literal sense: it is barely 75 minutes long, and almost all of the action takes place in a couple of interior spaces and along a single street. And it is a small film in a less literal sense, too: its near-total emphasis on romantic relationships, its lack of a sense of place and, especially, its lazy utilization of a narrator render Lover for a Day a rather vapid and forgettable piece of cinema.
The narrative fulcrum of Lover for a Day is the character Ariane (Louise Chevillotte), who is the live-in girlfriend of lead male protagonist Gilles (Éric Caravaca). At the beginning of the film, Gilles’ daughter Jeanne (Esther Garrel, the director’s daughter) comes to Gilles’ apartment with luggage and a tear-stained face; she has just broken up with her own live-in boyfriend. She finds Ariane, who is as young as Jeanne herself, at her father’s flat and immediately dislikes her. Gilles is a professor and the women are students, so he is often out and they are regularly at the apartment alone together. They come to trust one another; Ariane comforts Jeanne about her break-up, and they begin sharing stories of past loves.
In this way, an odd sort of love triangle commences. But Lover for a Day is uninterested in mining it for all of the dramatic pay-offs that are available. Garrel has a set-up worthy of Truffaut or Wong Kar-Wai, but he squanders it. Unlike those two celebrated auteurs, he does not envelop his love story in a strong setting, even though Paris is always ripe for such a role. Instead, he has multiple scenes set inside a lecture hall restroom. He also does not give his characters identities that expand beyond their role in the central love triangle: Gilles is a lonely professor, Ariane, as we come to learn, is something of a nymphomaniac and Jeanne is a paragon of restrained desire. Who these people are outside of those designations is something that does not seem to interest Garrel.
What most holds the film back, however, is its reliance on an unnecessary narrator. The narrator tells the audience what the characters are thinking and feeling, but what makes cinema as a medium so spellbinding and worthwhile is that brilliant directors and actors are capable of showing audiences these things. Is Garrel incapable of visually showing viewers, so he must resort to simple telling? Does he lack trust in the abilities of his cast to be emotively expressive? Or, worst of all, is he afraid that his audience will be unable to get his message unless he just comes out and tells them? If the latter is the case, it is particularly infuriating: the thesis of the film is a vacuous and hackneyed line about trust, commitment and the impermanence of romantic love. How could audiences miss that? Furthermore, given the unoriginality of such a message, even within the oeuvre of Garrel himself, what would it matter if they did?