- Ravi Swami
Two more Rohmers...Dir: Eric Rohmer, 1981 & 1983
Updated: Jan 18, 2021
Two films directed by Eric Rohmer during an especially prolific period of the 1980's fall within his series "Comedies & Proverbs", suggesting a thematic connection.
Rohmer's films, as I discovered, are full of meaningful conversations between characters and have an episodic quality defined by shifting locations where his characters, well...talk.
And it's within these conversations that Rohmer teases out the convoluted relationship stories that interest him. "Comedies & Proverbs" suggests a lineage that goes back to the "Comédie-Française" of Molière, partly political satire in it's day but also the "comedy of manners" typical of English Restoration theatre. Here Rohmer carries that tradition across into film and gives the same kinds of plots a contemporary spin but without the physical constraints of theatre.
"Pauline at The Beach" (Fr: "Pauline à la plage") is often recommended as a starting point if you've never seen an Eric Rohmer film but by this point I'd already watched a couple and indeed his style and themes were already well-established by the 1960's.
In typical Rohmer fashion the film's arc is simple and linear - teenage Pauline arrives at a holiday cottage on the coast with her older cousin Marion, who is an attractive recently divorced fashion designer in Paris.
We get the impression early on that far from being a naive teenager, Pauline has wisdom beyond her years and can look after herself, whereas Marion entertains romantic notions around finding a true life-partner and is a little vulnerable.
During a leisurely walk across the beach they come across Marion's ex-lover Pierre - a sailboard instructor - and as they are getting reacquainted, Henri appears, a middle-aged man who instantly takes an interest in Marion and subsequently invites all three back to his beachfront villa home for dinner.
This somewhat contrived chain of events is the catalyst for the comedy that ensues and where Pauline is a sounding board for Marion as she enters into a relationship with the married but separated Henri, who it turns out is a lecherous two-timer, while old-flame Pierre tries desperately to re-kindle his relationship with the disinterested Marion, and it would be unfair of me to reveal too much of the plot beyond this.
"The Aviator's Wife" takes place in Paris and opens as Christian, an airline pilot, visits the tiny apartment of his lover Anne to tell her their affair is over and he is going back to his wife, since she is pregnant.
Anne and Christian leave the apartment just as François, a young man who is also in a relationship with Anne, approaches and sees them together. From this point on he becomes obsessed that she is cheating on him and tries to call her at her place of work, but she ignores his calls.
François starts to wonder if his working patterns - he is a night worker - are putting a strain on his relationship with daytime office-worker Anne and he offers to find her a plumber to repair the noisy plumbing in her apartment as a way to smooth things out between them, via a work colleague who can recommend someone.
Though in need of sleep, François decides to use his day to follow Christian and Anne as they say their goodbyes to each other.
Later, he sees Christian at a cafe in the train station and waits to confront him, falling asleep in the process but waking just in time to see Christian meet a blonde woman, perhaps his wife ?
François' obsession leads to tailing Christian and the blonde woman through the city and eventually to a park, which is where he befriends 15 year old Lucie, a young woman he had seen on the bus and who becomes fascinated by his obsession with the couple while at the same time flirting with him. Lucie joins him in his espionage which comes to an end as they sit in a cafe opposite an apartment building that Christian and the blonde woman have entered.
Again, at the risk of spoilers, I'll stop here and it suffices to say that François is something of a sap in this tragicomedy while everyone else around him, including Anne, is more worldly-wise than he is.
Rohmer's camerawork has a documentary feel as he follows the characters through Paris, making a feature of ordinary people's reactions to the drama being acted out in the street and the various locations of the film.
As a rather sad footnote to the film, Phillippe Marlaud, who plays the ill-starred but earnest François, tragically died in a camping accident in the year of the film's release, a fact that may contribute to a sense of melancholy in his performance, and which is there even if you weren't aware of it.