As a school, realism makes up only a small part of the world of film. Dedicated, unsurprisingly, to the pursuit of a realistic viewpoint on life, realist films are noted for their incredibly long shots, complete disdain for special effects, and lack of desire for conclusion, plot or pacing.
They prefer instead to focus on character, emotions, and often the depressing, isolated nature of modern human existence. Italian neorealists were noted for their insistence that the ideal movie would be two hours in the life of a man in which nothing happens, because nature itself creates art.
If you think this sounds like a good way of making some very tedious movies, you'd be about right. With this in mind it should not be a great shock that there isn't that much realism about these days, and certainly very little on general release. Lee Kang-sheng's double bill The Missing/Goodbye Dragon Inn is about the only recent thing that springs to mind.
Les Amants Reguliers pretty much falls into this category. It starts in Paris in 1968, at the high point of the May insurrection against de Gaulle's government. 20 year old François (Louis Garrel), and his group of friends play their own small part, manning the barricades, helping tip over cars and hiding on rooftops from the police.
The movement fails and, disillusioned, François and his friends drift into 1969, disappointed by the revolution but still desperate to keep its spirit alive. They move into the house of the independently wealthy Antoine (Julien Lucas), and their days dissolve into a hedonistic, drug fuelled routine, opium taking the place of rebellion. There François meets Lilie (Clotilde Hesme). They fall in love immediately but, with the failure of their revolution, can they find a new purpose to their lives and a new spirit of the times?
Much has been made of William Lubtchanski's cinematography, which is at times quite beautiful. It's unfortunate, then, that the actual film is terrible. At a staggering three hours long it perfectly captures the unique boredom of François' lifestyle, and makes no effort to give anything back to the audience.
Though not officially autobiographical, director Philippe Garrel makes little attempt to hide the fact that we are watching his youth. Garrel himself was 20 in 1968, and here his son Louis plays the young him, with numerous other friends and relations thrown in amongst the cast.
There seems to be an implicit assumption that one might be interested in what Garrel did when he was 20, and he makes no attempt to engage with any story or dialogue, content instead to treat you to monolithic shots of him and his friends lying around smoking opium.
Unforgivably, the white subtitles have been lazily drawn straight over the black and white film, meaning you are frequently unable to even understand what little dialogue there is. The cinema was practically empty by the time the end credits rolled, and for good reason. At its best, a realist movie like this can be a fantastic insight into the trials of modern living. All too often though, it can be an utter waste of time.