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  • Ravi Swami

"The Green Ray", Dir: Éric Rohmer, 1986

Updated: Mar 19, 2021

As usual I'm not taking much notice of the intended sequence of Éric Rohmer's films in his "Comedies & Proverbs" series, of which "The Green Ray" (Fr: "Le Rayon Vert") is the fifth and concluding part and that centre on the central characters' search for love and the various ways in which that can be frustrated.

While the plots and characters all seem to reflect very middle-class concerns in as much as everyone has a job and can afford holidays, ie they have choices, they are very relatable and Rohmer's stripped-down almost documentary approach to storytelling that allows the characters to breath via the improvised dialogue is what, for me, makes them a welcome relief or change of gear from the very contrived situations of the average Hollywood tent-pole blockbuster.

Once again starring Marie Riviere - an actress who had proved her adeptness in delivering convincing improvised dialogue in previous Rohmer films in the series - the plot concerns

Delphine, a young Parisian who, on the verge of the annual Summer vacation period, suffers a relationship breakdown and consequently has no one to share the vacation period with, leaving her reluctantly to try various options recommended by friends, all which prove to be unsatisfying and what unfolds is a story characterized by restless travel (Ebert).

A sense of worthlessness starts to overwhelm her that soon turns to anger as the prospect of a series of empty one-night stands seems like the only alternative to being single, until a chance encounter on a beach where she overhears a group of middle-aged book-club members discussing Jules Verne's book "The Green Ray".

Verne's book describes a rare atmospheric phenomena that occurs just as the setting sun disappears over the horizon, causing a fleeting "Green Ray" to flash on the horizon before disappearing altogether, and that on witnessing this, the observer, in that moment, understands themselves and perhaps another with an unusual level of clarity.

In an otherwise very realistic scenario, Rohmer uses this and "signs" in the form of playing cards that Delphine comes across in various locations that in themselves seem random and slightly surreal but that assume a degree of significance to Delphine and which add an element of fantasy to the plot.

Finally, having exhausted all the possible options for enjoying her vacation she decides to return to Paris and it is at the train station in Biarritz that she meets a young man and strikes up a conversation after seeing the book he is reading - up to this point she has determined not to rush into any new relationships following the difficult break-up - and she promptly changes her plan of returning to Paris, instead choosing to accompany the young man to the small fishing port of Saint-Jean-Du-Luz, where he lives.

The two spend a pleasant day or two there before she asks him to join her on a clifftop to observe the setting sun and it is here that they both witness the green ray of the title, which for Delphine confirms that she has made the right choice.

Rohmer anticipated the important role that TV would play in screening independent films that would otherwise not get a wider audience with "The Green Ray" since it was premiered on the French TV station Canal Plus, to whom it was sold at a fifth of its' production budget, and its' theatrical release came soon after following its' critical reception.

Much of the joy of Rohmer's films comes from the improvised dialogue and situations which seem very natural without ever drifting into banality, even if the plots and situations in themselves are quite banal, so I'll definitely be checking out more of his films, which are available on Apple + TV.


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