‘French director Eric Rohmer told Barbet Schroeder in a 2006 interview, “In many films, people never discuss ideas, be they moral or political. And when those kinds of discussions are introduced, it often sounds false. What I’ve tried to do—and this is what I’m happiest with in my films—[is to] show people discussing morality, whatever that might mean, in a completely natural way.” Sometimes these discussions are abstract and philosophical (Jean-Louis Trintignant, his prospective mistress, and a friend debating Pascal over dinner in My Night at Maud’s) and sometimes they’re distinctly earthbound (the two dandies in La Collectionneuse taunting the indifferent object of their desire by calling her a slut). But it only takes a minute of hearing and seeing one of these conversations to know you’re in Rohmer-world, an enchanted and yet peculiarly unsentimental place in which both words and actions, minds and bodies, matter absolutely.
‘Philosopher Gerard Legrand wrote that “Rohmer is constantly inviting you to be intelligent …. In fact, more intelligent than his characters.” The first part of that statement is impeccably observed: A Rohmer movie doesn’t clobber you with its smarts; it generously furnishes you a space in which to think for yourself. But Legrand’s suggestion that, as part of this transaction, the viewer is invited to feel smarter than the characters seems to me imprecise and insufficiently appreciative of Rohmer’s artistry. As we watch Jerome (Jean-Claude Brialy), the self-deluded hero of Claire’s Knee, place his impending marriage in peril by blundering into all manner of erotic monkeyshines, we feel no smarter than he is. We don’t regard him with contempt or pity. We may feel wiser than Jerome, by moments, and certainly we laugh at his subterfuges, but we know all the while that our sense of superiority is itself a delusion—that the minute we leave the theater, we’re liable to lay eyes on an enticing knee that provokes us to behave just as foolishly. To find other artists besides Rohmer who can see this deeply into a character’s humanity and make us love him anyway—that is to say, who can ironize with this degree of gentleness—you have to reach up to a pretty high shelf: Shakespeare? Tolstoy?
‘Rohmer made films that were innovative but not iconoclastic—and never “revolutionary” in the Marxist sense of early Godard. They belong to a tradition of French philosophy and literature going back to Pascal, Marivaux, and Stendhal, in which free-thinking, solitude-loving heroes and heroines are caught in conflicts between the exigencies of law and reason and the demands of the heart. If Rohmer sometimes said, “Action” before he said, “Camera,” it wasn’t because he cared more about what the actors were doing than the fact they were being filmed. It was because he was trying to achieve a precise cinematic effect, that heightened not-quite-naturalism all his own; not a documentary-style “slice of life” but a privileged form of eavesdropping.
‘The beautiful people in Rohmer movies may be entranced with the sound of their own and one another’s voices, but they also speak with their bodies: Fabrice Luchini awkwardly navigating the dance floor in Full Moon in Paris, the principals of Pauline at the Beach using windsurfing lessons as a courtship ritual, and of course the protagonist in Claire’s Knee groping for that irresistible kneecap. The character’s movements and gestures are every bit as important as what they say, and as often as not, the gestures undo the words. “The reason I don’t like a close-up,” Rohmer explained, “is because it excludes. It doesn’t add, it takes away. It suppresses the relationship of the character to the set.” Rohmer didn’t draw any metaphorical conclusions about the significance of his preference for long shots over close-ups, but I’ll permit myself the liberty of hazarding one: If he preferred to keep his camera at a distance, it was because, physically as well as spiritually, he saw his characters as irreducibly whole.’ — Dana Stevens, Slate
‘Raymond Carver titled one of his most famous short stories “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love”. I am prepared to argue that no artist in any medium, not just cinema, explored the subject of romantic love as thoroughly as Rohmer — although it takes a certain amount of life experience to appreciate the depth of his accomplishment. I initially saw most of Rohmer’s films when I was in my early twenties and, save for the Moral Tales (his most well-known work), I hadn’t bothered to revisit his filmography until now — at the age of 38. After recently watching all of his movies in the span of less than a month, I now understand and appreciate his artistry in a way that I never had before. While I always considered myself an admirer of his “official masterpieces” (the later Moral Tales and certain key films in his other two prominent cycles: “Comedies and Proverbs” and “The Tales of the Four Seasons”), some of his films struck me as dull or even annoying, mainly because I found the characters annoying — without realizing that this was fully Rohmer’s intention. See, for example, the last segment of 1995’s Rendezvous in Paris, a hilarious satire of “mansplaining” (before the term even existed). But the most important revelation I’ve had about Rohmer is the realization that his special genius lay in his illustration of how the vast majority of human desires remain unfulfilled — the drama of his scenarios arises from the tension between what his characters want and their refusal/inability to attain it. Rohmer knew that eros has a way of making one talk, act and think differently, and this is what his camera documented with the precision of a microscope. And I’m not just referring to the kind of strong desires that make us want to sleep with person X or try to make person Y our significant other; he showed how eros can make one act just the tiniest degree nicer to a person to whom one is attracted, even when — or perhaps especially when — one feels that nothing may come of it.
From The Sign of Leo in 1959 to The Romance of Astrea and Celadon nearly a half of a century later, Rohmer showed a remarkable consistency in terms of his stylistic and thematic preoccupations. Sometimes he came in for criticism for it but Rohmer really did tend to make the same movie over and over again, sometimes with only minor — though crucial — variations in the characters and settings (something that can’t really be said about his compatriots in the nouvelle vague). The conventional wisdom, at least in certain mainstream cinephile circles, is that Rohmer was a kind of French Woody Allen: an intellectual who wrote and directed “talky” (i.e., dialogue-heavy and “uncinematic”) romantic comedies about upper class characters for upper class audiences. But far from being the cinematic equivalent of “watching paint dry,” to quote the famous putdown by Gene Hackman’s detective character in Arthur Penn’s Night Moves (1975), Rohmer’s films are both more exquisitely cinematic than his detractors give him credit for while also keeping more of a critical distance from their protagonists than many of his supporters are willing to admit. (Having said that, I can’t quite go along with the assertion of critic Gilbert Adair that Rohmer’s characters “are among the most foolish, ineffectual and pathetic milquetoasts ever to have graced a cinema screen, [and] that, on a generous estimate, 90% of the celebrated talk is sheer, unadulterated twaddle” — even if Adair meant that as a compliment!)
‘As far as Rohmer’s too-little-remarked-upon visual mastery is concerned, its virtues lie in the most discreet aspects of mise-en-scene. Yes, his films are about people talking, oftentimes in a self-deceptive fashion that is humorous for the way it rings of psychological truth, but there is often a poignant discrepancy between what his dialogue tells and what his camera shows. I would argue this is dialogue that would not add up to much on the page or even the stage. It does, however, come spectacularly alive on the cinema screen because of its very specific real-world context. In other words, the things that matter most in Rohmer’s movies are the material facts of where and when his characters do their talking — character and environment are inseparable. The main interest in watching Boyfriends and Girlfriends (1987), for instance, stems not from the romantic musical-chairs plot but rather from the way this plot unfolds against the backdrop of the horrific modern “architecture” of the pre-fabricated Parisian suburb known as Cergy Pontoise. And even more important than locations in Rohmer are the seasons, the time of day and the weather (“My films are slaves to weather,” he pronounced in one interview): has the particular color of summer sunlight ever registered so vividly as in Nestor Almendros’ photography of the French Riviera in La Collectionneuse (1967)? Is it possible to watch Jean-Luis Trintignant attend midnight mass at Christmastime in the black-and-white My Night at Maud’s (1969) and not feel the coldness in one’s bones? In Rohmer’s last masterpiece, 1998’s An Autumn Tale, what sticks with one the most about the beautiful character study is the sense of what it’s like to walk among the vineyards in the Rhone wine-region of France on a perfect fall day. But Rohmer knew a thing or two about interiors too. Check out Claire’s Knee, in which Aurora, a 30-something female novelist, wears matronly dresses with floral patterns that subtly link her to the wallpaper around her (and thus the concept of domesticity), in pointed contrast to the teenaged and bare-kneed Claire (who is repeatedly associated with the outdoors).’ — White City Cinema
Eric Rohmer 1920 – 2010 @ MUBI
Eric Rohmer @ Senses of Cinema
Eric Rohmer Fan Page (in French)
Video: Eric Rohmer on the dance floor
‘The Persistent Pleasures of Eric Rohmer’ @ NYRoB
‘My Love Affair with Eric Rohmer’ @ Hydra Magazine
‘Remembering Eric Rohmer, 1920 – 2010’ @ Salon
‘Cinema and the Classroom: Education in the Work of Eric Rohmer
‘ReFramed No. 9: Eric Rohmer’s Le Rayon Vert
‘OBJECT / SUBJECT: THE FILMS OF ERIC ROHMER’
Gilbert Adair ‘Eric Rohmer: Let’s talk about … everything’
‘Drift, The End, Stuck: Eric Rohmer’
‘Eric Rohmer’s Canvas’
Emanuel Levy ‘French Cinema’s Continuous Creativity’
Eric Rohmer’s ‘Six Moral Tales’ Boxset
Jean-Luc Godard’s Eric Rohmer tribute – 2010
1977 interview (w/ subtitles)
Eric Rohmer in Jacques Rivette’s ‘Out 1’ (w/ subtitles)
Parlons Cinéma Eric Rohmer (1977)
Eric Rohmer – Les Metamorphoses du paysage (1964)
from Cahiers du cinema
CAHIERS: Let’s begin with a point that could appear secondary to you: since our last interview (1965), your two films: La collectionneuse and Ma nuit chez Maud, have known a certain level of success, both critically and with the public. Has this success led you to rethink the principal of the “moral tale”, or your relationship to the public and to the cinema?
ROHMER: I told myself that success would come some time or another. Has it changed anything with regards to my intentions? No. I always knew that I would make the later moral tales with more significant means than the earlier ones because the subjects demanded it. They demanded older characters, and it is easier to find 20 year-old amateur actors than 30- or 40 year-old ones. Now, if neither La collectionneuse nor Ma nuit chez Maud had met with success, this would likely have sounded the death knell for the “Moral Tales”.
CAHIERS: You say that this success changes nothing about the general plan of the “Moral Tales”. So was this success also programmed by you? For it is a new objective factor which would interfere with your plan in an objective manner.
ROHMER: No, I didn’t programme it, I hoped it would happen, in as much as, financially, it permitted me to continue the “Moral Tales”. I believed in a snowball effect: that with the success of the first, I could make the second, then the third and so on. I gambled on winning.
CAHIERS: Every success depends on a reading [lecture]; do you think that, in your case, this reading was adequate to what the films represented for you?
ROHMER: Listen, I don’t know. When you don’t have success, you can glorify the fact, when you do have success, you can glorify it as well. Or, inversely, you can complain about having too much success, or none at all. Yes, my success frightens me a little: after having been on the outer with relation to the cinema, after having made films almost in conditions of banditry, outside the laws of filmmaking and the customs of film technicians, now I have been admitted, I have been welcomed. This could be dangerous, in as much as success is always heady. Fortunately this isn’t the case at the moment, as I had already thought out my “Moral Tales” and my manner of shooting them hasn’t changed. The proof is that my next film will be no more expensive than the earlier ones, although it could have been. When you have a bit of success, you tend to think that success isn’t such a bad thing, and when you don’t have any success, you tend to think that success doesn’t prove anything. Both perspectives are true, I think. An author is more or less attuned with the present times; there are some who are always with the times, with all that this implies in terms of imperfection, as you can’t always be with the times. It’s not normal for a creator to be with the times when people receive his work; he must be a bit ahead of the times. So, you’re a little bit ahead of people, but they end up catching up to you. And they’re very quick. We’re no longer in the days of Stendhal, who speculated on being received in a hundred years time.
CAHIERS: But do you think that the response of critics and that of the public correspond to what these films represent?
ROHMER: I think I’ve been better understood, better received, by the public rather than the critics. I have the impression that the public was touched in a more original way, while the response of critics seemed more banal to me.
CAHIERS: On what basis do you think the public has been able to respond to the film better than the critics?
ROHMER: Nothing. Except for the fact that if people went to see the film, there must have been good word of mouth about it. I don’t think the critical response was enough to guarantee this, as this year it has been hyperbolic about films that flopped. All the more so, because there were elements in Ma nuit chez Maud which were, on the face of it, objectionable: the Catholic element, the long conversations, the fact that it was in black and white. The advertising campaign didn’t really contribute, either. I told the UGC [a French cinema distributor] to do it very discreetly. So the film’s success was purely due to word of mouth. Now, what were people’s reactions? I don’t know anything. I didn’t receive any letters, except one or two.
CAHIERS: We weren’t speaking of success as a fact, but of its nature. There is, all the same, a continuity between the reception of the public and that of the critics: the emphasis on the “intelligence of the characters”, “the profundity of the themes treated”…
ROHMER: Of course, but I read all that just like you did and I am able to interpret it even less than you can.
CAHIERS: For example, the film yielded a commentary which can be summarised thus: “as opposed to all these ‘modern’ movies, here is a film which, far from showing us gibbering morons – like Godard does for example – presents us with intelligent characters, debating extremely elevated problems, and what’s more: in the provinces, and in a text which is very coherent, cultivated, logically articulated”. Which comes back to attributing the film with the intelligence of the characters’ discourses, to take the discourse proffered in the film for the discourse of the film itself. Now, it seems to us that there is a confusion here: the interest in the film is situated in the articulations between the different discourses expressed in the film, more than these discourses themselves.
ROHMER: Your point of view – and this is normal – is more refined and more profound than that of most spectators. But every text, it seems to me, allows for two readings: an immediate reading and a reading between the lines, resulting from a deepened reflection, with reference to aesthetic theories. But I don’t think that this simplistic interpretation is worth less than the second. I always thought, even when I was a critic, that the brutal and simplistic reaction of the spectator is a good thing. I know that back then in Cahiers, we praised very commercial films in trying to defend them from a point of view that was not that of the man on the street. But this point of view doesn’t bother me. If people want to take things literally in the film, things that I myself may not take literally, I don’t say that this goes against its meaning, I say that it’s a more unsophisticated way of receiving the film, that’s all. I absolutely take on board every interpretation. That doesn’t mean I have to accept them, but once I finish a film, it escapes me, it closes itself off from me, and I can’t enter it any more. It’s up to the public to penetrate through whichever door they wish. I am not speaking about critics, who claim to have found the key, the right key, the only one which opens the big entrance gate. But that’s not my problem any more, thank God. I am not looking for the keys to Hitchcock any more, like I used to.
CAHIERS: Ma nuit chez Maud has certain things in common with Hitchcock: the spectator’s point of view is not put into question, but with this point of view, we can take into account how these films really function.
ROHMER: No, it’s a little different. This attitude which consists in looking for the meaning of the film beyond what is most evidently there (although Douchet has succeeded in coming to grips with what is most evident about Hitchcock: suspense), I think it was more valid for the American cinema, for films with a mass audience, but that it’s no longer justifiable nowadays. I would like there to be the shortest distance between the public’s interpretation (is it that naive? I doubt it) and that of the critics. I write films which should be, above all, tasted, felt, not so as to give rise to an intellectual reflection, but so that they touch people. A Chaplin film, even if you can make a highly developed reflection as to its subject matter, has to make people laugh, otherwise it’s a failure.
CAHIERS: With Chaplin or Hitchcock, what’s more immediate is their pleasurable aspect. Reflection can be secondary. But as for Ma nuit chez Maud, the reflections that the characters make produce and legitimise the spectator’s pleasure, delighted to see characters think in their stead.
ROHMER: Let’s say that at this point in the history of the cinema and the public, only a film which incites a certain reflection can be touching. There are subjects which could be touching in earlier times, such as melodramatic subjects, which don’t touch anyone anymore, so you need to delve into the characters more. But I have trouble seeing what the public could have misinterpreted.
CAHIERS: It seems that for Ma nuit chez Maud there wasn’t a gap between the point of view of the public and that of the critics to the same extent that there was for the films of Hitchcock, for example. Because, what is the entertainment value of a film like Ma nuit chez Maud, the equivalent of spectacle in a Hitchcock film, or of laughter in a Chaplin film? It’s reflection: it’s a film whose entertainment value is of a reflective type.
ROHMER: Certainly. But I think that there is also reflection in a detective novel, in the form of logical, even mathematical, considerations, explicit or not. And even in the comic film, there is a subjacent logical exposition.
CAHIERS: In Ma nuit chez Maud, the reflexive part, based on elements of intelligence, of discourse, was more important than is ordinarily the case, in as much as pleasure and pleasure of reflection are more directly linked than in a comic film, for example.
ROHMER: Certainly. But it’s a difference of degree and not a difference of nature: in all pleasure there is an element of reflection and we must hope that in all reflection there is an element of pleasure. I think that a work of art is made for the purpose of pleasure, and also for the purpose of reflection. I have always refused the distinction between art as entertainment and art as reflection. After all, we can reflect on Johnny Halliday and find an immediate pleasure in Beethoven. For me, this distinction is a flawed way of thinking…
What retains your interest in this film is the fact that my characters have a discourse to give, while in the majority of films, this is absent. Note that in general, I have always had misgivings about discursive films. But you are often attracted by things which seem the most unattractive and the most perilous to you. My idea was precisely to integrate a discourse into the film and to avoid the film being at the service of the discourse, at the service of the thesis. But throughout history, starting with the Greeks, discourse has been very important in the theatre. The Greek theatre was composed of maxims, of moral reflection, which didn’t prevent it from being real theatre.
CAHIERS: In Ma nuit chez Maud, what permitted people to take pleasure from the film was, more than a real or new reflection, “the idea of reflection”, reflection in quotation marks. That is to say, the role that maxims played in the Greek theatre in terms of cultural discourse, already well-known, labelled as being propitious to reflection. In Ma nuit chez Maud, a subject matter squarely designated as being intellectual serves to procure pleasure. Whence the risk of miscomprehension we spoke about at the beginning, miscomprehension coming from the fact that the spectator had a tendency to consider you, as the author of the film, as being on the same level as the discourses proffered in the film, when, it seems to us, the film is somewhere else, between these discourses, it plays with these discourses, plays on these discourses.
ROHMER: What you’re doing now is criticism, and I find it very interesting, by the way. I even subscribe to it in a certain fashion: of all the things that one could say about the film, it’s one of the most perspicacious. But then what’s the point of me being here. My position with relation to the film has no importance. Probably because you know that I was a critic, you’re trying to make me be a critic for my own film, something I absolutely refuse and of which I am, in any case, incapable.
CAHIERS: Let’s say that there is an ambiguity which is attached to the notion of the “moral tale”, the title functioning like a signal: “attention, serious thought!”.
ROHMER: If there is an ambiguity, it is in the moral tale. There are subjects, “sentimental” subjects, which can only be interpreted in a certain manner, while in my subject, there is a fundamental ambiguity in as much as one doesn’t know who is right and who is wrong, if it’s happy or if it’s sad. This comes from the fact that the cinema has evolved and that it is less unsophisticated, less naive than before.
CAHIERS: We’re not trying to say that the public has committed a misinterpretation. But this reading we spoke about can constitute a limitation of the meaning and above all, prevent seeing how this meaning is produced, and that other meanings are masked.
ROHMER: There is necessarily a limitation of the meaning. It is impossible to fully take account of any kind of work, even the most facile ones: there are always different meanings according to the different temperaments of those who receive the work. This seems normal to me and is not particular to my film.
CAHIERS: For a very long time, the idea was nurtured that the work offered itself to as many readings as there are spectators. For too long the myth was accredited according to which each spectator received a film in a unique and singular manner. In fact, when we speak of a film, with its spectators, we see very well that for each film there is a very limited number of possible readings, with gaps between them, and that these readings are all determined, and not only by the film.
ROHMER: There are a limited number of readings – at any given time. But let’s take films which endure, look at the different ways in which we could speak about Griffith or Renoir, you’ll notice that it’s very varied… As for the “Moral Tales”, I told you that they were films which could be composed by a computer….
CAHIERS: But the computer itself is programmed…
ROHMER: But the programme is extremely simple. Starting with two single words: “moral”, “tale”, you can draw out a lot of things. But I still don’t see what I could say to you that would be interesting, apart from banalities, or to recount the film in a different way. Ask me some more precise questions.
CAHIERS: Isn’t it the case that what underlies all your “Moral Tales” could be boiled down to four words which we give here in no particular order: space, time, chance, predestination (with all the Christian connotations that this entails: grace, etc.)?
ROHMER: They are indeed words which are in the computer program. They are there of necessity, because in every fiction, in every work of cinema, there is on the one hand the idea of destiny (as a way of seeing an event) and predestination (the magical side of this destiny), and on the other hand there is space and time. So they’re in my program… as a minimum program for every fiction.
CAHIERS: You said just then that you had wagered on having success in the 1970s. So did you think that your two last films coincided more particularly with this moment…
ROHMER: You want to make a prophet out of me, which I’m not in the slightest. It was just a hope. When I undertook my “Tales” – Comolli remembers this very well – I declared, “Long live 16mm!”, out of provocation and necessity more than out of deep conviction. It was evident that 16mm presented great inconveniences on a technical level. This was back in 1962: things have slightly improved since then. All the same, I had intended to shot La collectionneuse in 16mm for a while, but Nestor [Almendros, camera operator for the film] advised me against it and convinced me that Eastmancolor was far superior to 16mm and not that much more expensive. So I shot it in 35mm. The same with Ma nuit chez Maud: I tried to see if we could do it with amateurs but I renounced the idea of finding people capable of filling the roles. With the next film, I’m going to shoot it “professionally”. But with the sixth “Moral Tale”, it is very possible that, all of a sudden, I could find it more interesting to do it in 16mm with amateurs. I don’t feel constrained by success, and, after the “Moral Tales” I have no idea what I’m going to do. I don’t even consider myself to be a filmmaker by trade.
Ma nuit chez Maud is a subject that I carried around inside me since 1945. Since then, it has undergone enormous modifications. A character locked up with a woman by an exterior circumstance was the primary dramatic idea. But back then it was about the curfew, during the war, and not snow.
CAHIERS: Did the fact that he got caught by the snow rather than a curfew during the war lead to other modifications?
ROHMER: For me, the snow represented the passage from “tale” to mise en scène. Snow is very cinematographically important for me. In the cinema, it makes the situation stronger, more universal than the external, historical circumstance of the occupation.
CAHIERS: Do you think that in relation to the general structure of the “Moral Tale”, snow has a fictional role equivalent to that of the occupation?
ROHMER: Given the subject, yes. Because the subject, such as I had thought of it, had no deep relationship with the occupation; that is, the conflict between the French and the Germans. You remember the Eluard poem: “It was late / Night had fallen / We fell in love with each other” and so on. Maybe this was what gave me the idea?
CAHIERS: Isn’t the real problem in the very notion of the “moral tale”, between a certain eternal aspect of an abstract schema and its obligatory and precise articulation with and insertion into History?
ROHMER: It’s not in “History”, it’s just in the current world, in the world to be filmed, and so there’s no issue. Up till now, and this is linked to the realism of my project, I always liked to film in the present day. If I film in Saint-Tropez, it’s not the same thing as filming in the fogs of the Baltic. If I shoot in 1970, the period will affirm itself in a certain manner, without the need for me to seek it out, by the way: I can take it because it’s there. At the same time, I avoid showing things which go out of fashion too much. Indeed, in La collectionneuse, there is a rather pronounced “fashionable” aspect, but I made it in such a way as to not be a slave to it, but to dominate it. This goes with my general, almost documentary conception of the cinema, in as much as I take real characters, who exist outside of the film, I accept them entirely, I don’t want to rob them of their particularities, even if these disappear with the passage of time. In Ma nuit chez Maud, the discourse is less specific to our time: let’s say that it is very “mid-century”. The insertion of my tales into the temporality of the character has never posed any problems for me: it happens by itself.
CAHIERS: On the one hand you film the present, on the other hand the general schema of the “Moral Tales” is ahistorical: yet, in Ma nuit chez Maud, there is, moreover, a precise discourse concerning history and the various bets one can place on the course of history: a very coherent Catholic discourse and a Marxist discourse that is less coherent, which is to say, very coherent from a Catholic point of view.
ROHMER: Obviously! The cinema shows real things. If I show a house, it’s a real, coherent house, not something made out of cardboard. When I show traffic on the road, it’s real traffic in a certain city, at a certain moment. It’s the same for the discourses in the film, I’m not looking for schematisation. I’m showing a Marxist, a Catholic, not the Marxist, the Catholic.
CAHIERS: In a sequence in Ma nuit chez Maud, the meeting between Vitez and Trintignant in the café, Vitez speaks to Trintignant about the prospects for the advent of socialism. This discourse is symmetrical to Trintignant’s discourse on chance and probabilities. Yet, as a communist, Vitez is supposed to base his ideas on a science, historical materialism, which envisages the advent of socialism without any wager, without fideism.
ROHMER: Attention. Marxism does not place a wager, but you can wager on Marxism. In as much as historical materialism is not a science…
CAHIERS: Historical materialism is a science.
ROHMER: No. It’s a philosophy. You can’t tell me that Marxism is a science. That the sum of the angles of a triangle are equal to two right angles, nobody will deny. Whereas with dialectical materialism…
CAHIERS: We said “historical materialism”.
ROHMER: All right, historical materialism, one can deny its very fundamentals. For example, I personally don’t attribute any value to it. Except as a philosophical system, among others. But it is not a science.
CAHIERS: The problem is not at all in our divergence with relation to historical materialism. It is in the discourse held by Vitez as a communist activist in the film. If, indeed, his adherence is a wager on a science, it would have been necessary for the film to present him as a “hesitant Marxist”. Yet, it’s Marxism itself which is presented as being hesitant.
ROHMER: I don’t know about that. I can’t make a judgement about it as a Marxist, not being one. But, in the same way that my Catholic says things which can shock certain Catholics, my Marxist does not have to be a model Marxist. It’s a character who calls himself a Marxist, much as Trintignant calls himself a Catholic. Is he Marxist from the point of view of Marxist orthodoxy? Is Trintignant Catholic from the point of view of Catholic orthodoxy? I don’t know, but this is what shapes my project, for that’s what interests me: showing men who are not absolutely certain of the validity of their adherence to a doctrine, and who interrogate themselves about it and place a wager on it.
16 of Eric Rohmer’s 22 films
Conte d’automne (Autumn Tale, 1998)
‘The last of Rohmer’s “Tales of the Four Seasons” (1990-98), the quartet which would be his final series, Autumn Tale is a magisterial late work – gentle, autumnal and mellow – that remains among the director’s very finest. In contrast to the dominant emphasis on youth in so much of his previous work, Rohmer now focuses instead on two middle-aged friends, played by his two favorite actresses, Marie Rivière and Béatrice Romaine, as the heroines of an intriguing plot spun from the matchmaking efforts of one for the other, and perhaps for herself as well. This well-intentioned intervention engenders a string of complications that culminate in a masterfully choreographed wedding sequence that alternates between comedy, melodrama and farce.’ — Harvard Film Archive
Conte d’été (A Summer’s Tale, 1996)
‘Foucault, writing on a certain type of overcome self where “this pleasure…is a state that is neither accompanied nor followed by any form of disturbance in the body or mind. It is defined by the fact of not being caused by anything that is independent of ourselves and therefore escapes our control”, might at first seem to be offering an example of control freakery. But it’s merely asking of each individual that they see themselves autonomously, first and foremost; that anything which enters into that autonomy can become the hint at mutually evolving selves present in A Summer’s Tale, as Gaspard and Margot converse and become more themselves and at the same time more at one with each other and the world. Rohmer’s films can seem like lightweight accounts of indecisive behaviour, but they contain within them possibilities far beyond the work of many filmmakers whose concerns may be more pessimistically explored, but no more deeply felt.’ — Tony McKibbin, Experimental Conversations
Excerpt (w/ subtitles)
Éric Rohmer sur le tournage de Conte d’été
Conte d’hiver (A Tale of Winter, 1992)
‘A Rohmer film is a flavor that, once tasted, cannot be mistaken. Like the Japanese master Ozu, with whom he is sometimes compared, he is said to make the same film every time. Yet, also like Ozu, his films seem individual and fresh and never seem to repeat themselves; both directors focus on people rather than plots, and know that every person is a startling original while most plots are more or less the same. His earlier films were about men and women; A Tale of Winter is about women and men, or women and women. He is concerned with the search for love and pattern in life. He loves the way women look and move and talk, and the way they evaluate men. He admires physical beauty, but never makes it the point; he chooses actresses who are smart and bright-eyed, and focuses on their personalities rather than their exteriors. What pervades Rohmer’s work is a faith in love–or, if not love, then in the right people finding each other for the right reasons. There is sadness in his work but not gloom. His characters are too smart to be surprised by disappointments, and too interested in life to indulge in depression. His films succeed not because large truths are discovered, but because small truths will do.’ — Roger Ebert
L’ami de mon amie (Boyfriends and Girlfriends, 1987)
‘Boyfriends and Girlfriends is among Rohmer’s lightest, most playful (and most overtly schematic) confections, breezing through the major preoccupations of his Comedies and Proverbs film series like icing on a particularly rich cake. As such, it feels very much like the summation of the preceding five works, an airily diagrammatic working through, and at least partial commentary upon, their prevailing characteristics. This is particularly clear in relation to the narrative structure and format of the film, which unusually for the Comedies and Proverbs series is constructed much more around a clean and classical aesthetic, one that is more compact and self-contained. Rohmer’s mise en scéne is predicated on clear-cut oppositions, harmonies and discordances. Costumes and colours are coded throughout, especially blues and greens, so that the joyous final scene not only matches two sets of characters in harmonious contrast (each couple clothed in compliments of blue and green), but is set it in a luxurious outdoor cafe in a location dominated by the natural correlative of clear water and thick foliage in deep sunshine. The whole is a rhapsody in blue and green that has the effect of speaking for the characters; characters who have struggled to enunciate and communicate, even to comprehend, their feelings throughout.’ — Senses of Cinema
4 aventures de Reinette et Mirabelle (1987)
‘As if making a joke about the famous talkiness of his films, Eric Rohmer’s latest work begins and ends with silence – or at least the idea of silence. In the first of the connected episodes in Four Adventures of Reinette and Mirabelle, the voluble Reinette treasures silence so much she wakes her friend Mirabelle before dawn to hear ”the blue hour,” which is not an hour but a second, not a sound but a brief silence between darkness and light, when the night birds stop singing and the day birds have not yet begun. Mr. Rohmer and his characters are always searching for such perfect moments, which are not epiphanies but luxurious experiences in their own right: touching a young woman’s knee in Claire’s Knee of 1970, or waiting to see the green ray, the moment when the setting sun flashes green on the horizon, in Summer (1986). His films themselves are just such experiences – apparently evanescent, yet remarkably weighty and memorable.’ — Caryn James, NYT
The Green Ray (1986)
‘This 1986 film from the late new wave veteran Eric Rohmer is the penultimate chapter of his six-part series Comedies and Proverbs, and arguably the best. Written in collaboration with its lead Marie Rivière, it’s a remarkably slender, even flimsy-seeming story about a young woman, Delphine, who finds herself unsure how to spend her summer holiday and ends up drifting from friend to friend, resort to resort, increasingly disconsolate and at a loose end. Still, she clings to her faith in destiny, which eventually seems to reveal its design in the form of an obscure Jules Verne novel chatted about by a group of senior citizens on the Biarritz beachfront. Shot on 16mm with a skeleton crew, the film features a number of Rohmer regulars, including Béatrice Romand and Rosette as Delphine’s pugnacious and coquettish friends, respectively, together with assorted non-professionals. They bring the tang of uncooked reality to a story that at times resembles a documentary on the French cult of the summer holiday.’ — The Guardian
Les nuits de la pleine lune (Full Moon in Paris, 1984)
‘”He who has two women loses his soul; he who has two houses loses his mind.” Beautiful interior decorator Pascale Ogier has a live-in boyfriend at her home in the country but enjoys a carefree single life when she stays at her apartment in Paris. Can she continue to have it both ways? And is that even what she really wants? Best Film of 1985, French Syndicate of Cinema Critics; Silver Lion for Best Actress (Ogier), 1984 Venice Film Festival. Eric Rohmer (1920-2010) changed the course of contemporary filmmaking with his eloquent, elegant and probing films focused on small moral dilemmas in the everyday lives of middle-class people. The most literary of the Nouvelle Vague filmmakers, Rohmer’s trademark comedies of manners are, in fact, as much about his characters’ linguistic habits as they are about their lives, loves and entanglements.’ — AFI
Pauline à la plage (Pauline at the Beach, 1983)
‘One of Rohmer’s most accessible films, Pauline at the Beach focuses on a merry-go-round of love and sex between four people who meet on vacation, all under the watchful eye of a pair of adolescents, who ultimately seem the wisest characters of all. Guided by the proverb roughly translated as “He who talks too much undoes himself,” Rohmer derives rich comedy and drama from the gaps between the moral positions declared by each of the adults and promptly contradicted by their subsequent actions. The film marks the final collaboration between Rohmer and cinematographer Nestor Almendros, who ignites the summertime beach setting with luminous imagery inspired by Matisse.’ — HFA
the entire film
Le Beau Mariage (A Good Marriage, 1982)
‘The La Fontaine proverb that begins this film asks, “Who has not built castles in Spain?” and the film follows with a cautionary tale about the dangers of hatching elaborate and improbable schemes. Rohmer favorite Béatrice Romand plays a young woman bent not on playing the field but rather waiting to meet the ideal man for marriage. In typical Rohmerian fashion, her resolute goal-orientation makes her alternately admirable and insufferable as she wills herself into awkward courtship and miscommunication. Ultimately, Rohmer’s heroine finds herself in a whirlwind of changing mores, the wake that followed the social upheavals of the 1960s and 1970s and the crossroads that recurs as the setting for the entire cycle of “Comedies and Proverbs.”’ — HFA
Perceval le Gallois (1978)
‘Eric Rohmer takes a great leap out of the comfortable middle class environs that have constituted almost all of his films and lands in the 12th century — but it’s not that drastic a stretch once one discovers that Rohmer’s idee fixe of “fidelity” is as present as ever. Not just fidelity as to one’s values, but Rohmer’s fidelity to recreating past moments and objects in a cinematic idiom. In his other films, he has strived to achieve a faithfully realistic recreation of everyday interactions between people — here he strives to cinematically construct the Arthurian tale of Perceval de Gallois as true-to-the-letter as possible, to the point of matching the source text word for word (so that the characters narrate their own actions. The film is set on a soundstage where knights pass by artificial trees and enter gilded castles barely large enough to fit one person. This is essential Rohmer and a must-see by all means.’ — Also Like Life
Die Marquise von O… (The Marquise of O, 1976)
‘Rohmer followed the great successes of his “Six Moral Tales” with a marked departure from his playful studies of shifting ethical codes in contemporary France by adapting an 1808 novella by Heinrich von Kleist. Like the novella, the film begins with the publication of a remarkable newspaper advertisement, signed by the Marquise of the title, in which she reveals that she is pregnant and desirous of the man responsible to reveal himself. While chance encounters spontaneously drive the protagonists of the “Moral Tales” to examine their own consciences, here fate forces the Marquise to confront both her own comportment and the prejudices of her day. Taking full advantage of the film’s West Germany locations and entirely German cast, Rohmer and Nestor Almendros enriched the period film with rich quotes from German Romantic painting.’ — HFA
L’amour l’après-midi (Love in the Afternoon, 1972)
‘Love in the Afternoon is the last of the Six Moral Tales. Frederic (Bernard Varley), is a happily married, well-to-do lawyer married to Helene (Francoise Verley), a somewhat chilly English professor. He is attracted to other women and misses the time when he was free. “I feel marriage closes me in,” he says, “cloisters me, and I want to escape. The prospect of happiness opening indefinitely before me sobers me. I find myself missing that time, not too long ago, when I could experience the pangs of anticipation.” Though there is a lot of talking in Chloe in the Afternoon, it never seems false or tiresome. This is a very charming film that Pauline Kael called “in every respects, a perfect film.” It has a natural rhythm with characters that are so real that you don’t want to leave them when the film ends.’ — Cinescene
Le genou de Claire (Claire’s Knee, 1970)
‘Of all the male protagonists in the “Six Moral Tales”—each a man in a steady relationship who finds himself tempted by an unexpected other woman—the lead in Claire’s Knee is arguably the least sympathetic, being a generation older than the unsuspecting, adolescent Claire who is his unwitting temptress. Nouvelle vague stalwart Jean-Claude Brialy plays Jerome, a self-satisfied libertine approaching middle age whose once firm decision to marry his longtime girlfriend is shaken by his encounter with the young Claire. Jerome’s habit of recounting his exploits in a self-serving manner makes explicit Rohmer’s belief that the “Moral Tales” protagonists think of themselves as heroes in a novel, narrating their lives to themselves and others as much as living them. The hints of murky depths in Jerome’s character contrast with the glowing imagery of Annecy in the summer, filmed by Nestor Almendros using a palette inspired by another libertine, Paul Gauguin.’ — HFA
Ma nuit chez Maud (My Night at Maud’s, 1969)
‘The third of Rohmer’s “Moral Tales” and his first international hit, My Night at Maud’s centers around a serious young Catholic engineer who, over the course of several days around Christmas, explores the intersection of chance and choice in his life. Adjusting to a lonely life in provincial Clermont-Ferrand after years living abroad, he finds himself torn between the woman chance has thrown him together with and one he has never met but instinctively believes to be his ideal. The film’s centerpiece is the titular night, which the snowbound Jean-Louis Trintignant spends with a charming, agnostic divorcee, sharing ideas about philosophy and life and, eventually, her bed. Pascal’s Pensées figures heavily in their circular and sparkling debates about religion, marriage and free will.’ — HFA
Trailer (w/ subtitles)
La Collectionneuse (The Collector, 1967)
‘In The Collector, Rohmer’s first feature-length film, mind-games, strategies, and overt manipulation thwart the possibility of satisfying relationships. The 54-minute film is beautifully photographed and has an elegance, charm, and wit that bears favorable comparison with his more acclaimed works. Adrien (Patrick Bauchau), an art dealer, and Daniel (Daniel Pommereulle), a painter spend the summer in a house on the French Riviera. Also vacationing there is Haydee (Haydee Politoff), an elegant but rather aloof young woman who sleeps with many boys in the area and has earned the title of “collectionneuse,” a collector of men. The Collector is perhaps the most philosophical of the six films in Rohmer’s ‘Moral Tales’ cycle, but in the end the pursuit without passion leads to a feeling of emptiness and missed opportunities. Like most of Rohmer’s films, there are no peak dramatic moments or confrontations, just everyday life elevated into art.’ — Cinescene
p.s. Hey. ** New Juche, Hi, Joe. Sounds a lot more than not bad at all, yeah. I’ll take dizzying, thank you. I used to know a guy who did that throwing himself down stairs thing too. We called him The Rubber Lady. I can’t remember why ‘Lady’. There was a reason though. Thanks about the moving. It’s a big ugh, but, you know, it’s a choice less situation, so … Have a fine morning until bedtime. ** S., Ha. That link. Not being as fully coffeed yet as will need be to survive today, I misread Balzacian as Bataclanian (as in the Paris club that got terroristed out) for a moment. Nice detail: the stairs, garage thing. Nice. Unexpectedly nice, which is the best nice, duh. The street I’ll be ensconced on isn’t fancy pants, but the area is, yeah. It’s gonna be alien until I turn alien. Bonjour in return! ** Dóra Grőber, Hi! That is a very good question about the laundry basket thing. It seems like a very American decision to me for some reason. I’m sure I’ll miss this place, maybe the area as much as the place. But it’s time to be tough and accept my fate. Oh, I see. They don’t read pitches? But if they don’t want it, there must be other possibilities for it, no? The topic is obviously juicy. The meetings went well, I guess. The amount of stuff to do is kind of overwhelming. We made ‘Cattle’ in such an underground way retrospectively. This time it’s so much more pro. Just having to shoot it with 15 or more people hovering around us doing different jobs is going to be very strange. Anyway, it’s all good, but so much work. And we still don’t have a guy for that one main role, and that’s turning into a crisis since time is running out. We auditioned a guy yesterday who could be good but only with a lot of work, so I don’t know if we’ll take him or keep hunting. Otherwise, yesterday and today and so on are about the apartment move, and I’m way behind on getting ready. Not the most fun days right now, but oh well. How did today go for you? ** David Ehrenstein, Hi. But there’s no staircase. I got our email. I don’t know why mine didn’t reach you. But, anyway, thank you so much, and it’s all set up now, and the post will appear on Saturday! ** Steevee, Hi. Well, it won’t surprise me if ‘Slick Bay’ doesn’t click in the States given that its anarchy doesn’t seem to jibe with what the film set in the US is into these days. Some there are getting and liking it. I read a review in the New Yorker that totally understood the film and was very positive. The only people or critics I know over here who didn’t like it are the ones who want him to return to making somber Bressonian films. That sounds very promising about the cinematographer, studio, etc! Fingers very crossed. ** Tosh Berman, Hi, Tosh. Oh, interesting, about that phobia. What about escalators? I hope your long flight back to LA has some more than doable in-flight movies in store for you. Make sure you’re decongested pre-boarding, obviously. See you on the other side! ** Jamie, Hello, sir. I purposefully tried to pick only straight staircases. Well, first I tried with a few spiral ones, but they threw the rhythm off in an uninteresting way, I thought. Prezzies! That’s one of the few cute-ified word transformations that I like. I’m in the Verhoeven general naysaying camp. I don’t buy the hype around his stuff. Although ‘Robocop’ was pretty good. I think he directed that? I liked ‘Nocturama’ on the other hand. I thought that was wild in an actually wild way. Your birthday sounds to have been really good. I’m into the dream. I move on Friday! Jesus, but yes! And I have more to do to get ready than I have time to do it in. Scary. The area isn’t hugely posh, but it’s not my kind of thing. For better or worse, it’s more of a businesses and stores and restaurants kind of area than a neighborhoody kind of area. So supermarkets, health food stores, etc. are not in nearby abundance and so on, which will be a hassle. But it’ll be okay. Thanks about our film title. Yeah, I’m pretty proud of it. I came up with it. It’s the name of a kind of obscure song and, later, an obscure band. But Zac’s eyes lit up instaneously, so it was the unanimous choice. Monday was morning-to-evening film meetings. Got a lot done, found out there’s a lot to do. Oh, shit, about the disagreement with your boss. Yeah, what’s your guess at that outcome? If I were to venture a guess, I would say he’ll send you flowers and beg for your forgiveness? I’m an optimist. I think I’ve had probably bunch of weird horror posts but I can’t remember the last one. I should restore one or more of those. Have a sweet dusk till dawn. French fries love, Dennis. ** Frank Jaffe, Hi, Frank! We start shooting our new film on April 17th. Right now we’re crazy busy getting ready. Christophe has helped us find some actors, but we’re not working officially with him this time. The film is via this French production company, Local Films. Unlike ‘Cattle’, this is a relatively big production with decent money and a huge crew and stuff. It’s exciting but daunting. I have a WiiU so I’ll probably just play ‘Zelda’ on that, although I do want to get Switch at some point. Yeah, you and John should meet. He’s great. Good to see you, my buddy! ** _Black_Acrylic, I suspect I won’t be able to find Dundee cake here to test out. There is a store specializing in ‘strange’ UK food items. I might try that. I did read about the referendum. Hooray! Super hoping that a majority of you Scots know what’s best this time. ** Misanthrope, Hi, G. I think that was one of those posts where shallowness was perfectly A-okay. In fact I think those who sought deeper meaning must have been sorely disappointed. Cool, a scene at a time. The first scene is the longest one. There’s definitely humor in that scene and in, I think, most if not all of the film. Anyway, thank you for going inside. Yeah, I think asking LPS to do Tim D. is a good idea. I’m down with that choice. Good one. Have a superlatives-generating day. ** Okay. Here’s a post about one of my very, very favorite film directors. I did a Day on Rohmer on my dead blog, and I was going to just restore it, but it wasn’t all it could have been in retrospect, so I just made a whole new one. Investigate, please? See you tomorrow.