In the opening scene of Jealousy, a relationship comes to an end.

In the opening scene of Jealousy, a relationship comes to an end. Shaggy-haired actor Louis (Louis Garrel) is leaving his girlfriend Clothilde (Rebecca Convenant) as their young daughter Charlotte looks on. The moment isn’t hugely original, or even especially dramatic. It’s a thing that has to happen, and everyone knows it, and each person’s reaction is honored. Then we move on—but everything that happens after depends on this sequence. Louis goes to live with his new lover Claudia (Anna Mouglalis, the Chanel from the dreary Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinsky), herself an actress, albeit one who mysteriously hasn’t worked in six years. The design of veteran director Philippe Garrel (Louis is his son) takes all of this situation’s developments in stride—sometimes literally, as he likes walking scenes—as though observation, not manipulation, is his primary interest.

It lacks the clocklike inner workings of movies devoted to storytelling, but Jealousy does a lot of things right. The melancholy black-and-white widescreen photography—actually shot on 35 mm film, not digital—comes courtesy of legendary Wings of Desire cinematographer Willy Kurant, and it sets exactly the right sad-in-Paris mood. Jean-Louis Aubert’s acoustic-guitar score is spare but soulful. The modest 77-minute running time is apt, given the general feeling of pages from a sketchbook being brought out for view. And the empathy for the characters is unflagging, especially whenever we visit Charlotte (Olga Milshtein), the child trying to sort out how to be with her mother and how to act around her father’s new companion.

In a fascinating Film Comment interview, Philippe has said that the film partly springs from his own childhood, when his father (actor Maurice Garrel) maintained a relationship with a woman who was not Philippe’s mother. Thus it’s no surprise that the scenes involving the little girl are especially lived-in; or that small details—a lollipop offered by Claudia as a token of friendship—take on large proportions. Characters talk about living life fully and deeply, the way they do in French films. (If characters in French films ever stop talking about this, I’m quitting.) It’s a testament to Philippe’s quiet style that these passionate feelings are crafted in a way that seems unassuming and unpretentious, but with grave consequences nonetheless. Opens Fri., Sept. 12 at Sundance Cinemas. Not rated. 77 minutes.