Category Archives: Eric Rohmer

Autumn tale (1998)

The Games People Play….

Autumn Tale (Conte d’Automne), set in France’s spectacular Rhone Valley, is the last of the Four Season films from director Eric Rohmer. Rohmer is one of my all-time favourite directors, and Autumn Tale is one of his best films. Rohmer excels at creating simple scenes and dialogue, and this is certainly true in this wonderful, deceptively simple film.

As with many Rohmer tales, this is a tableaux of relationships, and there are several relationships under scrutiny here. One of the relationships is between married bookseller Isabelle (Marie Riviere) and her childhood friend, vineyard owner, widow Magali (Beatrice Romand). As is so often the case with the happily married, Isabelle wants Magali to be equally happy and to get out into the world and find a man. While Magali acknowledges that she’s lonely and would like a relationship, she’s not comfortable in social settings. She thinks a romance will just ‘happen’ in spite of the fact that she leads an extremely isolated life.

Magali’s son, Leo (Stephane Darmon) is dating a bright, self-possessed young girl named Rosine (Alexia Portal). Leo isn’t Rosine’s usual ‘type’ and she acknowledges that he’s a “filler” to her much older ex-professor, Etienne (Didier Sandre). While Etienne would like his relationship with Rosine to become more, she flirts and plays fast and loose with Etienne–encouraging him and then in the next moment insisting that he find a woman his own age. Extremely flirtatious with Etienne, Rosine’s behavior could be categorized as conflicted or manipulative depending on just how generous you feel about her character. Subsequently, she decides to play matchmaker and bring Etienne and Magali together, and while this is really a ridiculous idea, it reveals a little more about Rosine’s motives.

In the meantime, Isabelle places a personal ad in the newspaper. Screening replies, she answers an ad from a divorced man named Gerald (Alain Libolt). Isabelle poses as Magali, and makes a series of dates without revealing the truth.

One of the reasons I love Rohmer films is the authenticity of his dialogue, and throughout the film it’s easy to imagine being in the same room with these fascinating, realistic characters as they play little psychological games with one another. While Isabelle ostensibly acts as a good, loyal friend by matching making for Magali, are her motives entirely pure? Does she enjoy playing with Gerald’s emotions? And what about Rosine? What sordid little game is she playing with Etienne and Leo?

Everything comes to a head at the wedding of Isabelle’s daughter, and there’s one great scene when Rosine assumes the nagging, jealous wife role to a disgruntled Etienne. Magali, who is supposedly the recipient of everyone’s best intentions, is the one person who has no clue what is going on. Through the matchmaking efforts of Isabelle and Rosine, the film creates some intriguing parallels. Both Isabelle and Rosine supposedly want to find a mate for Magali, and at the same time they both toy with the idea of love affairs with the men they find for Magali.

If you are a fan of Rohmer films, you may spot that Magali is the same actress who appeared 28 years earlier in Rohmer’s masterpiece (and my all-time favourite) Claire’s Knee in the role of Laura. It’s Beatrice Romand’s body language that gives her away. It amazing to see her in Claire’s Knee as a teen and then see her as a mature woman in Autumn Tale. This is a typically and deceptively simple Rohmer film, a perfect conclusion to Rohmer’s Four Seasons that resonates long after the credits roll.

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Full Moon in Paris (1984)

 

 “A myriad possibilities were out there waiting.”

 

Full Moon in Paris (Les Nuits de la Pleine Lune) is the fourth film in director Eric Rohmer’s Comedies and Proverbs series, and this film is inspired by the proverb: ‘A man who has two women, loses his soul. A man who has two houses loses his mind.’ As with many Rohmer films, Full Moon in Paris explores the mysteries of human relationships.

full-moonInterior designer trainee, Louise (Pascale Ogier), works in Paris, but lives in the suburbs with boyfriend, Remi (Tcheky Karyo). The very traditional Remi, who works for the town’s planning department, wants to get married, but Louise drags her heels, and says she needs ‘space.’ She decides to renovate her apartment in Paris and rather than rent it out, she keeps it with the idea that she will use it once a week. Remi objects, but Louise is adamant that she needs time to herself. She claims: “the experience I’ve missed is loneliness.” Louise wants to stay in Paris on Friday nights and attend parties–without Remi, and this becomes a point of contention between them. Remi accepts it, but he doesn’t like it. It’s clear to the viewer that the last thing Louise wants on a Friday night in Paris is to be alone.

While Louise ploughs her time, energy and attention into her Parisian pied-a-terre, her home with Remi remains bare and has that barely unpacked look. The two homes are in stark contrast to one another. Louise’s Parisian apartment is tiny, cozy and stamped with her personality. On the other hand her home in the suburbs is impersonal and untidy.

On Friday nights, Louise begins to attend parties either alone or with a male friend, Octave, in attendance. Octave (Fabrice Luchini) is a writer, and although he’s married and has a child, he admits that he loves seducing women. He’d like to seduce Louise, but she argues that she really isn’t into the physical side of a relationship, so their relationship boils down to discussions that consist of Louise’s largely untested and self-focused opinions about relationships, and Octave trying to argue Louise into having sex. Octave is a little bit of a voyeur, and there’s the sense that he also enjoys observing Louise for material for his next novel. Some of the best scenes occur between Louise and Octave–two egoists who imagine that everyone else exists for their benefit.

Pascale Ogier plays the character of Louise well. Her hair annoyed me beyond reason, but her acting was excellent. Lacking any true introspection, Louise is slightly prim and proper, shallow, selfish and not particularly intelligent. Unwilling to commit, she analyzes her life with herself as the center of her universe while objectifying Remi. In the beginning of the film, Remi goes halfway to meet Louise’s insistence that she remain in Paris and party on Friday nights. Remi attends a party, and I can’t really say that he’s ‘with’ Louise as she is obviously flummoxed when Remi arrives. For the brief time he’s there, Louise ignores her fiancé, and dances with a musician. But then when Remi leaves, understandably annoyed and uncomfortable at being ignored at a party full of Louise’s friends, she pouts and turns on the tears. Just like the saying, Louise “wants to have her cake and eat it too.” And that translates, in this case, to Louise wants to have a steady relationship with Remi, but she wants to be single once a week with Remi alone at home wondering what she is up to.

There are so many great scenes in this film, but one of my favourites takes place at Remi and Louise’s home in the suburbs. Louise has returned home and as usual she begins playing her little emotional games with Remi, and this time, Remi, who’s a fairly stoic character, shows his impatience.

Fabrice Luchini, one of my favorite French actors is wonderful as always in this film. All too often, he is relegated to the supporting male role. Luchini as Octave follows Louise around looking desperately for a crumb of hope that she’ll eventually wear down and have sex with him, but in spite of Octave’s designs on Louise’s body, their relationship remains interestingly cerebral. Luchini’s facial expressions are wonderful; he has a sort of fanatical joy at times, and in this film, his eyes gleam when he discusses future plots and possible trysts with Louise. Octave and Louise seem an unlikely couple–although this doesn’t deter Octave in the slightest. The fact that Louise lacks intelligence and introspection does not cool Octave’s ardor. And even Louise’s little cat-and-mouse game serves to fuel his lust rather than deter him from his goal. His eyes swell with anticipation as his glance sweeps Louise’s body, and really these two—Louise and Octave deserve each other.

Full Moon in Paris is one of the very best Rohmer films. It is full of delectable revealing conversations between the characters, but perhaps the most revealing conversation of the film is the conversation between Louise and an unidentified artist (Laszlo Szabo). It’s the artist, who’s just listened to a litany of Louise’s self-inflicted woes, who points out that the men in Louise’s life have some say in what happens. And it’s this idea that never occurred to the self-focused Louise. If you’ve watched and enjoyed other Rohmer films, you will enjoy this film and its examination of the often unspoken struggle for power within relationships. Most people either love or hate Rohmer films–there seems little middle ground here. And as for me, Rohmer is one of my very favourite directors.

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Claire’s Knee (1970)

claires-knee

“At the same time, it was my good deed.”

In my teens, I was lucky enough to see my first-ever foreign films–Belle de Jour (Luis Bunuel), and Claire’s Knee (Eric Rohmer). Both films were a major revelation to me, and both films triggered a life-long love of French cinema.

Claire’s Knee (Le Genou de Claire) is film 5 in director Eric Rohmer’s Six Moral Tales series, but it is not necessary to watch the other films in the series to make sense of Claire’s Knee. However, Rohmer films are really only for the serious French film aficionado. Rohmer’s critics charge that his films are pretentious and boring, and while it is true that Rohmer films are not noted for their action sequences, nonetheless, I find his films fascinating and re-watch many of them when I have the chance. Most of Rohmer’s films are full of conversations between characters, and if you find the characters interesting, or if the issues they face intrigue you, then you may enjoy Rohmer films. However, if you dislike one Rohmer film, you will probably dislike them all. And no one seems to be blase on the subject–he’s a director whose films you either love and rave about or you loathe and avoid.

Rohmer seems to have an obsession with French people on holiday, and Claire’s Knee is not an exception to that. In Claire’s Knee, 35-year-old diplomat Jerome (Jean-Claude Brialy) visits his holiday home located near the French-Swiss border at Lake Annecy. He is preparing to sell the property prior to his upcoming marriage to long-time girlfriend, Lucinde. Here Jerome meets writer and long-time acquaintance, Aurora (Aurora Cornu), who is staying with a female friend and her 2 teenage daughters, Laura (Beatrice Romand) and Claire (Laurence de Monaghan). Aurora professes to be in the midst of a struggle with a fictional character–an older man who is obsessed with younger girls. Jerome makes a strange bargain with Aurora, and he agrees that he will encourage Laura to fall in love with him. Aurora claims that observing the relationship Jerome has with Laura will help her solve the plot difficulties she is experiencing. Is Aurora’s interest in encouraging a relationship between Jerome and Laura motivated by dispassionate intellectual curiosity as she claims, or is there something darker afoot? And why does Jerome agree to indulge Aurora?

But Laura, in spite of her youth and inexperience, possesses a charming wisdom that unnerves Jerome, and then Laura’s half-sister Claire arrives. Claire is much less introspective and appears to be more experienced. Jerome discovers that Claire “troubles” him with a “real and undefined desire,” and he quickly becomes obsessed with the idea of touching Claire’s knee.

Jerome plays a strange game. On the one hand, he’s getting married to Lucinde because their long-standing relationship has never dulled–in spite of the fact that during a confession to Aurora, Jerome admits that both he and Lucinde have ‘strayed.’ Jerome argues that he doesn’t “look at women any more,” and the sense is that Jerome has now decided, at age 35, to ‘settle down.’ Passion seems to have little to do with it, and while Jerome professes disinterest in all other women, there’s a subtle hint or two that he wouldn’t exactly be averse to a holiday fling with Aurora if she felt so inclined. Aurora, on the other hand, makes one or two slight but significant comments about Jerome’s relationships with women.

Aurora delicately avoids any physical entanglement with Jerome and instead appears to be intrigued with him as a ‘character’ in a literary sense. Explaining that characters have their “own logic” Aurora maintains that in a novel sometimes what doesn’t happen is as interesting as what does happen. The idea of the interest in non-action is never clearer than in Rohmer’s films. In Claire’s Knee the fascination with the non-occurrence is carried out with sheer perfection, and the interest remains in the question–‘what actions will a character take in a certain situation?’ Rohmer is a very prolific director, but the languorous film Claire’s Knee remains one of my very favourites. Keep an eye open for a very young Fabrice Luchini in the role of Vincent, Laura’s boyfriend.

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Boyfriends and Girlfriends (1987)

 “Some things are better left unsaid.”

In the French film, Boyfriends and Girlfriends Blanche works for the Cultural Affairs office in a small urban town. She’s 24 years old and single. One lunchtime, she meets Lea, a student, who lives with her boyfriend, Fabien. Lea and Blanche–although opposites in many ways, strike up a relationship, and soon they are the very best of friends. Blanche even begins giving Lea swimming lessons. One day, at the local swimming pool, Blanche spots Alexandre, and she’s immediately smitten. Apparently, most of the women who come in contact with Alexandre are similarly smitten. He’s a notorious ladies’ man, but he’s also known for his poor taste in women.

boyfriends and girlfriendsLea immediately begins encouraging Blanche’s interest in Alexandre, but at the same time, Lea emphasizes that he’s not really Blanche’s type. In fact, the more Lea talks about Alexandre, it seems likely that he’s more Lea’s type–at least she seems to feel the challenge of a relationship with him. Lea is also blatantly dissatisfied with Fabien, and she notes that with Fabien, “all my little games fall flat.” Lea is just marking time before they break up.

Rohmer delightfully dissects the difficulties involved in both beginning and ending romantic relationships. The delicate progress of courtship is recorded before the characters even seem to be aware of the new relationships they find themselves in. The uncertainty surrounding Blanche’s hopeful and desperate interest in the rather caddish Alexandre is touching. The characters–as always in Rohmer films–create all the interest. As a director, he enters the minds of his characters and studies their motivations through their conversations and their actions.

Blanche is sweet, pert and rather easy-going. Lea is much more elegant, complicated, and harder to please. Alexandre is very much at ease in his elegant skin. He’s confident and suave–the complete opposite of the much more sincere Fabien. The film gravitates around the idea that opposites do indeed attract–and knowing one’s ‘type’, does not necessarily lead to making better choices.

Boyfriends and Girlfriends is one of Eric Rohmer’s Comedies and Proverbs series, and this series tends to be a little fluffier than many of Rohmer’s other films. Rohmer’s Moral Tales Series, for example, includes more substantial and philosophical films which deal with weightier subject matter. The Comedies and Proverbs are lighter–less serious fare and the other five films in this series are: The Aviator’s Wife, Full Moon In Paris, Le Beau Mariage, Pauline at the Beach, and Summer. Rohmer films are always full of conversations–there is rarely action here–and most of his films seem to mention, at the very least, holidays. The characters in this film find that their romantic lives are somewhat influenced by holidays. People seem to either love or loathe Rohmer films–the most critical find the films boring and pretentious–I, however, return many times to my Rohmer collection, and I am fascinated by the characters and the relationships they form.

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Triple Agent (2004)

 “I’m not accepting any favours from the Bolsheviks.”

triple-agentLoosely based on a true story, director Eric Rohmer’s film Triple Agent cleverly examines the complicated politics of the turbulent years 1936-37 through an unsolved mystery involving espionage. Fyodor Voronin (Serge Renko) is a White Russian who’s part of the emigre community living in Paris in the 30s. He’s a former White general, and he works for the Russian Army Veteran’s Association. While ostensibly he works to assist the former soldiers, part of his job is to prevent soviet agent infiltration. The emigre community is still reeling from the bold 1930 kidnapping of White Russian General Kutyepov. Fyodor’s wife of 12 years, Arsinoe (Katerina Didaskalu) is an artist who has little interest in her husband’s politics. They appear to have a loving marriage–although Fyodor leaves for long periods of time.

This is a dangerous time when even the seemingly simplest conversation can reveal shifting political alliances. Seasoned director Eric Rohmer blends footage of the time with the action of his characters. Against the backdrop of the rise of the Popular Front, and the election of France’s first Socialist Prime Minister, Leon Blum, Arsinoe makes friends with the communist neighbours who live upstairs, and Fyodor isn’t thrilled about this. Arsinoe, as usual, laughs off her husband’s worries, but gradually, she begins to suspect that he’s tangled in a web of international intrigue. Fyodor seems to be remarkably well informed, and this gains him a great deal of respect in many quarters. While he admits he “pulls strings” he refuses to explain just how he gains some of his information.

The Spanish Revolution begins, and with the shifting unrest, Fyodor’s involvement in espionage appears to increase. His confidences to Arsinoe become bolder, and he’s giddy with his own sense of power. To him, espionage is “just a game of chess.” He even anticipates Stalin’s devious involvement with Spain and argues that “Spain is a training ground where you size up your opponents, and you don’t care who wins.” Then news of Stalin’s purges spreads to the emigre community, and soon it’s no longer clear just who Fyodor works for ….

It’s best to come to this film with a sense of the political backdrop of the period as the film covers a vast range of political ideas here–decossackification, the Russian Revolution, Stalin’s purges, Stalin’s meddling in the Spanish Revolution, the Popular Front, Leon Blum, and the rise of the Nazi party. Like all Rohmer films, the action is driven by character and dialogue, and if you’re already a Rohmer fan, you won’t be disappointed in this intriguing film. Special mention here for a great performance from actress Katerina Didaskalu who plays Arsinoe–a woman who is forced into a painful confrontation between love, loyalty and morality.

The DVD includes a documentary that examines the real-life unsolved mystery of General Miller and Nikolai Skoblin. A French historian does a marvelous job of placing the mystery in the context of its time, while the niece of Skoblin argues for her uncle’s innocence–fascinating stuff. In French, Greek, German, and Russian with English subtitles.

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Summer (1986)

 “I’m not normal, like you.”

Summer  (Le Rayon Vert) from French director Eric Rohmer’s Comedies and Proverbs series is basically a ‘boy meets girl story’. The plot is centered on Delphine (Marie Riviere), a Parisian woman who finds herself alone for her annual holiday. Delphine attempts to salvage her holiday by solitary sorties to several locations. In Biarritz, she meets a Swedish woman whose confidence and predatory behavior serves only to undermine Delphine’s confidence even further.

summerSummer is a character study of a single woman’s voyage through urban loneliness, and in true Rohmer tradition, the action is dialogue driven. Many of Rohmer’s films include some reference to the Parisian annual holiday, but in this film, the plot never strays from the idea of the annual exodus from Paris. Herein lies Delphine’s dilemma–she doesn’t want to be alone, but she doesn’t exactly glow when she’s around other people. When surrounded by others who attempt to make Delphine feel comfortable, her behaviour alienates them and ultimately isolates her. She’s idealistic, and that makes her interesting, and she clearly doesn’t fit in with the more social groups she constantly mingles with. However, Delphine’s tendency to whininess and constant crying detracts from the film. Rohmer films often concern an admirable character who is troubled in some way. In Summer, Delphine as a central character is too weak to bolster the entire film. There are psychological depths to her behaviour that are unexplored, and the film remains less substantial than many other Rohmer films.

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