Kent Jones on Eric Rohmer
By and large I agree with everything in this piece.
The cinema of Eric Rohmer (born Maurice Scherer) has stayed uniformly, if not alarmingly, consistent. Whereas the obsessions and preoccupations of a Godard or a Chabrol have mutated over the years, Rohmer’s song has remained the same, from his earliest shorts to his latest “Tales of the Four Seasons” series: compact narratives keyed to a particular part of France at a particular time of year, centered on the moral/psychological quandaries of beautiful men and women at various stages of life. What has changed dramatically is the popular perception of his work, at least stateside. With the exception of Rivette, Rohmer was initially seen as the most rarefied of the new wavers, someone whose movies gave all but the most devoted art-house patrons a case of hives (as in Gene Hackman’s riposte to his wife in Night Moves, when she halfheartedly invites him to a Rohmer movie: “I’d rather watch paint dry”). These days, the eternally youthful auteur (he’s pushing 80, and experimenting with DV) has been anointed as the most profoundly, delightfully, dependably “French” of all filmmakers.
Even more than Truffaut or Chabrol, Rohmer has always believed in the power of stories and storytelling. In his early “Moral Tales,” the carefully calibrated narratives pushed his gallery of intellectuals toward a melancholy self-realization. As the director became more interested in young people at the beginning of the ‘80s, his focus shifted to the spiritual. Like Rossellini, one of his role models, the devoutly Catholic Rohmer tends to leave his heroes and heroines in a state of grace, framed within the most ordinary circumstances and settings (it’s hard to imagine a more subtly enacted miracle than the climax of Tale of Winter). And, of course, they talk their way right up the spiritual ladder. Many people are driven around the bend by Rohmer’s “dialogue-heavy” movies, which supposedly approach cinematic danger level. But in his case, talk always equals action: a form of therapeutic inquiry for the heroes of My Night at Maud’s or Claire’s Knee, a restless search for clarity in Pauline at the Beach or Le Beau Mariage, a wayward path toward enlightenment in the latest films. Moreover, Rohmer’s talking cures are always firmly rooted in their settings: It’s the pre-Christmas snowstorm in Clermont-Ferrand that keeps the skittish Jean-Louis Trintignant holed up with Françoise Fabian’s game divorcée in Maud’s, and it’s the golden, sunlit southern countryside that fills Marie Rivière with the knowledge of her own mature beauty in Autumn Tale.
With his three long
series spanning six decades, broken up by excursions into documentaries,
literary adaptations, and omnibus films, has Rohmer realized his ambition to be
the Balzac of cinema? Maybe. It has to be said that
his conservatism borders on nationalism: Unlike Pialat or Téchiné or even
Rivette, he’s never risen to the challenge of portraying the racial diversity