For Reel


My Night at Maud’s (1969)
December 31, 2015, 1:03 pm
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Director: Eric Rohmer
5 Stars
My Night at Maud'sThe brunette divorcée (Françoise Fabian) that gives this masterpiece its title serves as a catalyst, what Kent Jones rightly identified as an “agent of transformation.” Perhaps it is paradoxical that a seemingly crucial night in the life of a devout Catholic (Jean-Louis Trintignant) didn’t do much to dispel his long-held romantic notions–at the end of the film, as in the beginning, he pursues an elusive blonde (Marie-Christine Barrault) whom he knows little about. If anything, it could be argued that Maud’s influence is what brings Jean-Louis to finalize this consistency of desire, driven by her assertion that she prefers men who, “know what they want.” And yet, what exactly transpires over the course of this night, and what precisely changes within Jean-Louis? Eric Rohmer is indirect with these answers, but is fascinated in opening up the possibilities for Jean-Louis–that is, his decision ultimately takes on greater weight considering the question of “what could have been.” The film, as in Pascal’s wager, hinges on the dynamic that sets a safe compromise against an elusive reward, only it is not clear which side Jean-Louis’ decision really serves. My Night at Maud’s is Rohmer’s first masterpiece and one of the great films of its decade, it possessing a sort of magic in the way that it not only indulges intelligent, well-argued conversation, but suggests how conversations themselves function in decision-making and developing a worldview. Rohmer uses long takes during the central setpiece, involving very little editing between the two characters so that the actors get to emote not only during what they have said or what they are reacting to, but rather play out a grand drama over the course of minutes. If Rohmer’s films are about talking, My Night at Maud’s is perhaps the purest example.

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La Collectionneuse (1967)
December 31, 2015, 12:54 pm
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Director: Eric Rohmer
3 Stars
La CollectionneuseReleasing his first feature at the age of 47, Eric Rohmer was the oldest of the critics-turned-filmmakers of Cahiers du cinéma. As is typical of his contemporaries in Jean-Luc Godard, Francois Truffaut, Agnes Varda, et al., Rohmer deals with a young generation, however his perspective is uniquely more distant and critical, not fully embracing these characters and instead commenting about their certain narcissism. Patrick Bauchau’s Adrien is a thoroughly loathsome character, his petty hatred for Haydée (Haydée Politoff) suggesting a one-way power struggle. La Collectionneuse begins by introducing Haydée in a fetishistic inventory of her body parts, bringing the viewer into a game of seduction that will go unfulfilled in the narrative. To Adrien, her greatest offense is that she hasn’t fulfilled her end of the seduction bargain. That the film involves a brief sex scene and youthful slang (as well as Adrien’s particular venom) suggests a certain crudity that is largely unfamiliar of Rohmer’s later work, but the film can perhaps be credited with firmly establishing Rohmer’s visual aesthetic, with Néstor Almendros photographing Rohmer’s first film in color. The film’s stagings might have been due to the budgetary and time constraints, but in the limited camera movements, long takes, and the lingering shots on brightly-clothed actors framed amongst greenery and wildflowers, La Collectionneuse sets the example for Rohmer’s career to be.



Autumn Tale (1998)
November 27, 2015, 5:44 pm
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Director: Eric Rohmer
4.5 Stars
Autumn TaleA vineyard in southern France serves as a prominent location in Autumn Tale, the last of Eric Rohmer’s “Tales of the Four Seasons” and a late-career masterpiece. It will become the setting where Isabelle (Marie Riviera), a happily married woman, will make the decision to help her widowed best friend, Magali (Beatrice Romand), find love once again. The presence of idyllic landscapes is common in Rohmer’s films, and here it fulfills multiple purposes–to develop a sense of realism in the natural setting, as a metaphor for aging (the lonesome Magali doubts if certain vintages will age well), and the place where the farce will first find its footing, with Isabelle’s participation in Magali’s love life eventually involving a series of coincidences and confused identities. While Rohmer’s visual style is often linked with realist directors, his narrative disposition tends to favor the classic Hollywood style, dependent on contrivances and artificiality. Writing for Senses of Cinema, critic Fiona Villella argues that this is the grounds for Rohmer’s sense of magical realism, where Rohmer, “combines (and achieves a balance between) this textured and materialistic mode of filmmaking […] with a Hollywood-style narrative transparency.” Autumn Tale could be seen as a companion piece to Rohmer’s earlier masterpiece The Green Ray in that both films concern themselves with loneliness, however whereas that film involves one hopeless romantic’s (played by Riviera) isolation from the world and her struggle to find meaningful companionship, Autumn Tale suggests that cultivating a love affair is almost mathematical, something that, like the production of wine, involves both a practical manufacturing and a certain level of artisanship.



Pauline at the Beach (1983)
October 15, 2015, 10:19 pm
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Director: Eric Rohmer
4 Stars
Pauline at the BeachThe 15-year-old Pauline (Amanda Langlet) drifts through the background of countless shots in Pauline at the Beach, bearing witness to the romantic schemes played by the adults who occupy a seaside resort in Normandy. She, as it turns out, will not be impervious to these entanglements, later chastising her new boyfriend for his willingness to participate in what she calls, “their [adult] games.” This third entry of Eric Rohmer’s “Comedies and Proverbs” series invents six distinct characters who all play a part in what turns out to be a traditional sex farce. The irony is that they each delude themselves into either fervently playing into or actively betraying the role that they identify themselves with. Despite the way that the film foregrounds the incongruities in a character’s spoken philosophies vs. their actions, Rohmer isn’t so much interested in parading their naïveté as he is in finding the small tragedies and ironies that occur in their various romantic involvements. A comedy that plays like particularly tantalizing gossip, Pauline at the Beach exhibits Rohmer at his most gently amusing.



Summer (1986)
July 12, 2012, 12:02 am
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Director: Eric Rohmer

Eric Rohmer’s Summer is surely one of the best movies ever made about loneliness. Titled The Green Ray (after Jules Verne’s novel) outside of North America, the picture follows a Parisian secretary who has just gotten out of a relationship and struggles to find someone to spend time with during her vacation month of August. There is not much more to the plot than that – it is a picture of quiet observations and invigorating non-sequiturs, creating a rich portrait of a woman whose isolation is self-inflicted due to her particularity about whom it is that she spends her time with. Early on, she must explain to her well-meaning hosts that she will not eat any meat products, only before declining to accompany them on their boat due to her penchant for seasickness. It is a moment that is both character-building and surprisingly devastating, suggesting what is likely her pattern of being wrongfully interpreted as stand-offish and unpleasant. As much as Rohmer mourns her loneliness, however, he champions her independence – the mysticism associated with Vernes’ titular phenomenon attributes a hopeful note to the otherwise melancholic progression, suggesting that she has not completely resigned herself to her fate. Particular though she may be, she will never grow despondent.