At Alliance Française on Fridays at 8 pm
May is “The Month of Eric Rohmer” at Alliance Française. And so is the month of June, for the most part. The May 15th program has been rescheduled for June 5.
At Alliance Française on Friday, May 22: Le genou de Claire / Claire's Knee (1970) by Eric Rohmer – 110 mins – France, Drama/ Romance. English subtitles. Reviews: Universal acclaim: 83 out of 100.
With Jean-Claude Brialy, Aurora Cornu, Béatrice Romand, Laurence de Monaghan.
Jérôme 35 years old, is on holiday in Talloires, near Annency. He meets Aurora, a Rumanian novelist, whom he came to know about six years ago. During her holidays she rents a room in a villa near the lake. She invites Jérôme to come to her villa and introduces him to the owner and to her daughter Laura who is 16 years old.
Jérôme is going to get married in one month time. Laura not knowing it, tries to seduce him and by curiosity, he enters into affair…
– Alliance description
Jérôme, a 35-year-old diplomat, is struck by teenage girl Claire and harbors an unquenchable desire to touch her knee.
Roger Ebert: Now if I were to say, for example, that Claire's Knee is about Jerome's desire to caress the knee of Claire, you would be about a million miles from the heart of this extraordinary film. And yet, in a way, Claire's Knee is indeed about Jerome's feelings for Claire's knee, which is a splendid knee. Jerome encounters Claire and the other characters in the film during a month's holiday he takes on a lake between France and Switzerland. He has gone there to rest and reflect before he marries Lucinda, a woman he has loved for five years. And who should he run into but Aurora, a novelist who he's also been a little in love with for a long time.
Aurora is staying with a summer family that has two daughters: Laura, who is sixteen and very wise and falls in love with Jerome, and Claire, who is beautiful and blonde and full of figure and spirit. Jerome and Aurora enter into a teasing intellectual game, which requires Jerome to describe to Aurora whatever happens to him during his holiday. When they all become aware that Laura has fallen in love with the older man, Jerome encourages her in a friendly, platonic way. They have talks about love and the nature of life, and they grow very fond of each other, although of course the man does not take advantage of the young girl.
But then Claire joins the group, and one day while they are picking cherries, Jerome turns his head and finds that Claire has climbed a ladder and he is looking directly at her knee. Claire herself, observed playing volleyball or running, hand-in-hand, with her boyfriend, is a sleek animal, and Jerome finds himself stirring with desire.
He doesn't want to run away with Claire, or seduce her, or anything like that; he plans to marry Lucinda. But he tells his friend Aurora that he has become fascinated by Claire's knee; that it might be the point through which she could be approached, just as another girl might respond to a caress on the neck, or the cheek, or the arm. He becomes obsessed with desire to test this theory, and one day has an opportunity to touch the knee at last.
As with all the films of Eric Rohmer, Claire's Knee exists at levels far removed from plot (as you might have guessed while I was describing the plot). What is really happening in this movie happens on the level of character, of thought, of the way people approach each other and then shy away. In some movies, people murder each other and the contact is casual; in a work by Eric Rohmer, small attitudes and gestures can summon up a university of humanity. …
Claire's Knee is a movie for people who still read good novels, care about good films, and think occasionally.
At Alliance Française on Friday, May 29: Pauline à la plage / Pauline at the Beach (1983) by Eric Rohmer – 95 mins – France, Comedy/ Drama/ Romance. English subtitles. Rated R in the US for nudity and sexual situations. Reviews: Universal acclaim: 88 out of 100.
With Amanda Langlet, Arielle Dombasle, Pascal Greggory, Feodor Atkine.
Pauline a young teenage-girl is being looked after by her cousin Marion, for a couple of days during the summer holidays. On the beach Mario comes across Pierre and old flame of hers whom Henri a friend of his introduces to her. Instead of going with henri. What will Pauline make of all this?
– Alliance description
The Movie Boy: The film takes place during a few weeks of August at the Normandy Coast, and centers on six different characters, primarily Pauline (Amanda Langlet), a wise beyond her years 15-year-old who has come to stay for the summer with her older cousin, Marion (Arielle Dombasle). On the first day at the beach, Marion runs into an old high school flame (Fedoore Atkine), and although he wants to rekindle their relationship, she is more interested in an older, more seductive womanizer (Pascal Greggory), who is also secretly having an affair with a candy vendor (Rosette). While Pauline watches as an outsider at what is happening between all of the adults, she forms a relationship of her own with a young teenage boy (Simon De La Brosse).
Pauline at the Beach is not a film in which big dramatic things occur, and there is not a clear-cut, tidy conclusion to the story. Instead, it is a picture that simply observes its characters in every day life, and the surprises come from little character details. The film is quite talky and slow moving, and so it is pretty safe to say it isn't for those who are only a fan of action movies, but is a treat for those viewers who often like to venture outside of the big-budget genre and see a good art film.
Spirituality and Practice: Eric Fromm wrote: "There is hardly any activity which started with such tremendous hopes and expectations, and yet which fails so regularly, as love." Eric Rohmer, the French director, would probably agree: he is a connoisseur of the amorous interplay of men and women. His new series of films, "Comedies and Proverbs," explores the different expectations individuals have about love. Pauline at the Beach, the latest installment, follows The Aviator's Wife and Le Beau Mariage.
Rohmer stages this intricate and engaging story of love, romance, lust, jealousy, deceit and bittersweet disillusionment in a relaxed summery season. The lovely surroundings and the ensuing misunderstandings provide the perfect milieu for an examination of contrasting attitudes about relationships.
Each of the lead characters — Amanda Langlet as the impressionable Pauline, Arielle Dombasle as the romantic Marion, Pascal Greggory as the moody Pierre, and Feodor Atkine as the narcissistic Henry — present a very different slant on love. To Pauline, it is uncharted territory; to Marion, it is centered around erotic attention; to Henry, it is a playful game detached from intense feelings; to Pierre, it is a mix of devotion and disappointment.
Rohmer's movies are masterpieces on a small scale. He wants us to recognize love as a process — an incessant interrogation of being — not a route to definitive answers but an ever expanding journey. Every filmgoer is sure to see bits and pieces of himself or herself in the words and deeds of these characters. Some artists believe that more revelations about human nature can be found in sentimental relations than in politics or the marketplace. Eric Rohmer inspires belief in that thesis.
At Alliance Française on Friday, June 5: Four Early Works by Eric Rohmer France. B&W. English subtitles.
A collection of philosophically-oriented early works by French New Wave auteur Eric Rohmer, whose meditative, deliberately-paced romance stories dramatize the inconstant nature of the human heart.
Rescheduled from May 15, whose showing was cancelled due to gremlins (technical problems – no sound).
1. Présentation ou Charlotte et son steak / Presentation, or Charlotte and Her Steak (1960) by Eric Rohmer – 12 mins – France, Romance/ Comedy/ Short. B&W. English subtitles.
With Jean-Luc Godard, Andrée Bertrand, Anne Couderet.
Charlotte is leaving. Before catching her train, she goes to her apartment for a quick snack -- a steak, as it happens. Walter accompanies her; the little time Charlotte will take to prepare and eat her steak represents his last opportunity to patch things up with her. A tall order, given the utterly unromantic circumstances...
– Alliance description
2. Nadja à Paris / Nadja in Paris (1964) by Eric Rohmer – 13 mins – France, Short. B&W. English subtitles.
With Nadja Tesich (also the writer).
Nadja, a Yugoslavian-born American student, lives at the Cité Universitaire in Paris, strolls in the city and gives her impressions of the different districts she visits...
– Alliance description
IMDb viewer: … tells the story of a Yugoslavian-born girl, who was adopted by an American family, who goes to study at the Cité Universitaire in Paris. The character development, considering the brevity of the film, is pretty good, but overall, the film doesn't pack much of a punch at all. Rohmer's other films tend to have an overlying meaning (or "point"), often in a moral lesson. This short is basically a love letter to Paris. "We'll always have Paris." We've all heard that before, and we accept it. Hearing a student experiencing the joy of Paris for the first time isn't exactly exhilarating.
3. La boulangère de Monceau / The Baker of Monceau / The Girl at the Monceau Bakery (1962) by Eric Rohmer – 23 mins – France, Romance/ Short. B&W. English subtitles.
With Barbet Schroeder, Michéle Girardon, Bertrand Tavernier, Claudine Soubrier, Fred Junk.
In Paris, in June, a young man approaches a girl in the street, but after several days without seeing her again, he becomes involved with the girl in the local bakery. Eventually he has to choose between them when he arranges dates with them on the same day...
– Alliance description
Simple, delicate, and jazzy, the first of the Moral Tales shows the stirrings of what would become the Eric Rohmer style: unfussy naturalistic shooting, ironic first-person voice-over, and the image of the “unknowable” woman. A law student (played by producer and future director Barbet Schroeder) with a roving eye and a large appetite stuffs himself full of sugar cookies and pastries daily in order to garner the attentions of the pretty brunette who works in a quaint Paris bakery. But is he truly interested, or is she just a sweet diversion?
IMDb viewer: The first of Eric Rohmer's six moral tales, The Girl at the Bakery Monceau is probably what newcomers to the unorthodox style film-making Rohmer employs should first be exposed to. Not because they should be seen in order but more or less due to the fact that the film is under thirty minutes. As in all the tales the theme (chauvinist male protagonist conflicted over two women) remains the same and in Monceau you are given a small dose of what will carry over into the full length explorations of men in self righteous struggle with reality and ideals.
Rohmer's literary style can be quite trying and his protagonists obnoxiously condescending. His characters are neither heroic nor noble. Rohmer's narrative style which depends heavily on interior monologue reveals some ugly truths that may not cause catastrophe but offer insightful points of view that makes the audience pause in reflection. We sometimes see ourselves in such reflections as well as friends and acquaintances.
Eugene O'Neil said, "We live in illusion and die in reality." In all of his tales Rohmer narrows that gap, exposing a humdrum reality with a fickle illusion born of self deception. There is a subtle subversive reward to be found in all of the "Moral Tales" and with The Girl at the Bakery Monceau he is off to an excellent start.
IMDb viewer: It's said that a writer tells the same story over and over again. Eric Rohmer during a period spanning some nine years developed an idea in regards to the relationship between a man, the ideal woman he loves, and the alluring temptation that presents itself as an aggressive female. In La boulangère de Monceau, he begins his six-part observation.
4. La carrière de Suzanne / Suzanne's Career (1963) by Eric Rohmer – 54 mins – France, Romance. B&W. English subtitles.
With Catherine Sée, Philippe Beuzen, Jean-Claude Biette, Patrick Bauchau, Christian Charrière, Diane Wilkinson, Pierre Cottrell.
Bertrand, a shy and reserved student, admires the rogue confidence of his best friend Guillaume while he exploit the generosity of the sweetly seductive Suzanne...
– Alliance description
Bertrand bides his time in a casually hostile and envious friendship with college chum Guillaume. But when ladies’ man Guillaume seems to be making a play for the spirited, independent Suzanne, Bertrand watches bitterly with disapproval and jealousy. With its ragged black-and-white 16mm photography and strong sense of 1960s Paris, Rohmer’s second Moral Tale is a wonderfully evocative portrait of youthful naiveté and the complicated bonds of friendship and romance.
IMDb viewer: The MO is the same the usual suspects in place in Erich Rohmer's second of his six moral tales. Lifeless amateur actors, cinematic style sacrificed for literary interior monologues about blasé people leading unremarkable lives. Suzanne is basically a three character story told by Bertrand, a bit of a self righteous twerp who remains conflicted about his feelings for the innocent and gullible Susan and his relationship with the amoral Guillaume who exploits Susan. Both men have a low opinion of Susan who in part brings it on herself by allowing the men to use her for her money and in the case of the rakish Guillaume for sex as well.
More concerned with character than plot, Rohmer gives us healthy servings of pettiness, ego, condescension, and denial served up by a self absorbed threesome blind to every one's view but their own. Less than an hour long (Rohmer time) the pace is still slow and the characters repetitious bad habits irritating but if one remains patient is rewarded with an ending rich in truth.
While the more polished, bigger budgeted and lengthier later tales such as Claire's Knee and Love in the Afternoon have a more professional patina about them Suzanne sans all these trappings is still told in the same Rohmer unique way.
The films of Erich Rohmer are an acquired taste. In Night Moves, a hard boiled private investigator played by Gene Hackman says viewing a Rohmer film is like watching paint dry. For twenty years I agreed with this assessment. I may still, but once dried and finished I now see a work of interesting art that is both challenging and pure.
Suzanne is an interesting sketch but for those unfamiliar with Rohmer, I would recommend any of the last three of the six tales first for their accessibility. Watch one and if it doesn't agree with you, wait ten to twenty years and try again. In Rohmer's case patience is a necessity.