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  • Ravi Swami

A Clutch of Rohmer's...1963-1972

I'm always up for a dose of Eric Rohmer's carefully observed films about the dynamics of relationships that spanned 3 decades and were thematically linked, in the case of the 1963 film "Suzanne's Career" and the 1972 film "Love In The Afternoon", as part of his "Moral Tales" series.

In "Suzanne's Career" the titular character is spotted by a couple of young students in a Paris cafe and they rather boldly strike up a conversation with her in the hope of one of them going on a date with her.

Set against the impending war with Algeria and a sense of uncertainty for young men facing conscription, the two students, the timid first-person narrator Bertrand and the brash, womanizing Guillaume, who initiates the introduction to Suzanne, embark on a plan to seduce her, with Guillaume playing the part of a disinterested manipulator after he has bedded her, while Bertrand begins to develop a crush on her friend, the more attractive Irish student Sophie.

Bertrand develops a low opinion of Suzanne on the basis that she is attached to Guillaume following their one-night stand and that she is unable to gauge his true intentions.

Rejected by Guillaume, Suzanne makes a play for Bertrand's affections unaware that both he and Guillaume plan to ruin her financially as part of their "game" and when Bertrand offers Suzanne a place to sleep at his apartment after they spend a night out together, he rather selfishly takes his bed for himself, leaving Suzanne to sleep on a chair.

The next morning Bertrand discovers that Suzanne has left the apartment and that money he had hidden in some books has gone missing and his suspicions fall on Suzanne, whereas in reality the money had been taken by Guillaume when he visited his apartment earlier.

While Suzanne could be seen to be an unwitting victim of Guillaume and Bertrand's machiavellian schemes, which involve provoking Bertrand into fleecing her of her earnings by getting her to pay for meals etc since they are both at that stage unemployed, she has the last laugh by the end of the film when she finds a new handsome, well-off suitor with whom she announces she is engaged, leaving Bertrand to mull over his choice of friendships.

By making Suzanne (Catherine Sée) the "plain Jane" compared to her friend, Sophie, Rohmer highlights male attitudes that suggest that "plain" women are more needy and are therefore are easier to manipulate by men and then neatly up-ends these attitudes by the films' conclusion, and it is clear that Suzanne is no fool.

Rohmer's 1972 film "Love In The Afternoon" follows business owner "Frédéric" (Bernard Verley) and again uses the device of a first-person narrative of Frédéric as he navigates a not quite mid-life crisis.

Happily married to Hélène, an English teacher, with one child and another on the way, everything should be rosy except for the dawning realization that life has settled into a routine after the highs and lows of romance before marriage.

Hélène is preoccupied with her child and is pregnant and therefore less interested in sex, and at work, Bernard is surrounded by his young female employees who flirt with him, but without much reciprocation on his part.

Meanwhile, he fantasizes that that he possesses a magic amulet that will make him irresistible to women he sees on the street.

Suddenly a face from his past, the attractive Chloé, appears at his office, hungry and homeless, and even though he is aware that she had made the life of one of his old friends difficult, he agrees to help her to find a job and somewhere to stay, all the while secretly entertaining the thought that it could lead to an affair.

His employees find great amusement in the fact that he meets Chloé for lunch on a regular basis, speculating that he is having an affair, and later she begins to turn up at the office for their regular assignations. Frederic enjoys her company since he finds that he can talk to her, something he finds difficult to do with his bookish wife.

However, as their clandestine, no-strings attached and up to that point, chaste, affair begins to develop, Chloé asks Frédéric if he would be happy to father her child since she feels that life is passing her by, but doesn't want the restrictions imposed by a conventional marriage.

Frédéric is happy to see that Chloé is moving toward a more settled existence after she moves from job to job with his help and eventually finds her a more suitable apartment, though he struggles with his feelings as he grows increasingly attracted to her.

Chloé, her mind made up, invites Frédéric to see her new apartment and when he arrives, she is taking a bath and she invites him to towel her dry as a prelude to sex but he loses his nerve, fleeing the apartment into the arms of his wife to seek a tearful reconciliation, and the film ends as Frédéric and Hélène go to their bedroom.

The moral aspects of the film are guilt and redemption and Rohmer doesn't let any of the characters get off lightly - for example, we may judge Chloé for being a wanton character, though clearly damaged by her relationships with men, but Frédéric is no better despite his seemingly secure vantage point and apparent advantages in life.

"Suzanne's Career" and "Love In The Afternoon", Dir: Eric Rohmer, 1963-1972

Criterion Channel

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