Born in 1948, Philippe Garrel was the wunderkind of French cinema in the 1960s. His fifth feature, Le lit de la vierge, is a parable about Jesus set in modern times. Shot in the aftermath of the uprisings of May 1968, the film reverberates with the rebellious spirit of that period. Pierre Clémenti plays a Christ reluctant to assume his earthly mission, while the Virgin Mary (Zouzou, doubly cast as Mary Magdalene) attempts to reconcile him with his duty. Garrel invokes the Christian narrative only to reject a strict retelling in a chronicle that is episodic and nonlinear. In naming his characters Mary and Jesus, Garrel reminds us of the contestatory attitude of the ’68 generation, for whom Jesus was a hippie avant la lettre. Made without a script and under the influence of LSD, Le lit de la vierge is minimally concerned with traditional religion. It does, however, suggest the ways in which Garrel and his friends saw themselves as belonging to a kind of religious sect, engaging in ritual behavior.
This recently discovered film by actor/filmmaker Pierre Clémenti records the tumultuous period leading up to May 1968 and its aftermath. Clémenti’s psychedelic visual style uses filters and superimposed images to create a manifesto for “permanent revolution,” “spontaneous creation,” and “poetry in the streets.” Like the Warhol Factory, Clémenti and his friends were interested in an expanded notion of art; here we see their band Les Fabuleux Loukoms (later called Les jeunes rebelles) practicing, together with other activities that form an important document of the period and a portrait of key figures in Zanzibar Films.
Filmmaker Philippe Garrel has always discussed the importance of painting for his cinema and, specifically, the painting of his longtime friend Frédéric Pardo. In this film, Pardo documents the Garrel inner circle in Morocco in 1968 on the set of Le lit de la vierge. While the stars of the Garrel film were Pierre Clémenti and Zouzou, here in Pardo’s behind-the-scenes view it is Garrel’s peripheral actors who take center stage: Pierre-Richard Bré, Jean-Pierre Kalfon, Babette Lamy, and above all, the luminous Tina Aumont. The Zanzibar equivalent of The Chelsea Girls, Pardo’s home movie is a mystical, life-affirming celebration.