Cut! - Eric Rohmer

Compiled by Bill Mousoulis

Parts of this article are now hosted on the PANDORA archive of the National Library of Australia and Partners.

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A few weeks ago, a call was put out inviting people to contribute a paragraph on the films of Eric Rohmer, using a particular word as the basis. The following words were suggested:

philosophy / morality / irony / silence / light / transformation / everyday / matrix / love

Or they could choose their own word.

These are the results:

An Eric Rohmer filmography is at the tail of this page.

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from Geoff Andrew:

philosophy

Along with Abbas Kiarostami, the eternally youthful and eternally imaginative Eric Rohmer is, in this writer’s opinion, the greatest living film-maker in the world today. And his greatest film, among many great films, is perhaps Ma Nuit Chez Maud, in that it is the clearest and most successful example of his almost unique ability to transform philosophy – the subtle processes of intellectual thought and theory – into the stuff of drama. Here, as he explores, with his customarily light sense of irony, the relevance or otherwise of Pascal’s wager to the morality of modern life – and in particular to that of modern love – he manages to merge the metaphysical with the physical, so that an inherently materialistic medium is endowed with a capacity to deal in abstractions. Oh, and the film is sexy and funny, too… The work of a master.

[Geoff Andrew is Senior Film Editor, Time Out magazine, and London Programmer, National Film Theatre, London.]

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from Terry Ballard:

everyday

Rohmer spends a lot of time creating an everyday rhythm to his movies. In Aviator’s Wife, a bus picks up the protagonist, then spends a protracted time starting and stopping, letting people on and off. In Winter’s Tale, the film is interspersed with objective shots of a car driving through the countryside. In most movies, this would be a prelude to a vivid, flaming, fatal accident involving a large truck. In a Rohmer film, it is a sympathetic character on his way to an unexpected reunion. In Rohmer’s films, you do not see guns, fights or drugs. Is this an unrealistically
academic view of the world? Possibly, but I don’t see these things in my own everyday life. I’m thrilled that there is one director who has the courage to show life the way it is lived. The bus pulls out with a whining of the motor, stops at a stoplight with the screech of air brakes, and then something wonderful may happen.

[Terry Ballard is the Automation Librarian at Quinnipiac College in Hamden Connecticut, and Library Systems columnist for Information Today. He is the author of the web site, Eric Rohmer, A highly unofficial web page]

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from Rose Capp:

desire

On desire in Claire’s Knee – In Claire’s Knee (1970), Rohmer’s cast of young and ‘youngish’ characters circle each other listlessly, desire igniting, spluttering and disappearing like so many deliberately lit spot fires-Jerome and Aurora, Jerome and Laura, Laura and Vincent, Claire and Gilles, Jerome and Claire. Always ‘in character’ as the self-appointed roué, Jerome’s encounters with women are strangely enervated events. Attracted in turn to the youthful pulchritude of Laura and Claire, he describes his obsession for the latter as ‘pure desire in a void’, but it is a contrived passion that could be more aptly characterised as devoid of pure desire. Rather, it is in the minutiae of other characters’ lives-the brief encounters, awkward pauses, small gestures, trivial details-that Rohmer invests his film with the real depth charge of erotic desire. Of all Rohmer’s films, I love this mid-career work most and for many reasons… for its lolly pink intertitles and Lolitaesque intrigues, for the repressed exuberance of the youthful Laura, for Rohmer’s sly, wry expose of Jerome as Hollow Man, for the endless stream of home-made lemonade that flows from Aurora’s house, for the intense evocation of languid summers long gone, for the studied ennui of the writer Aurora, for Jerome’s daggy red speedboat (an improbable vehicle of seduction), for young French masculinity in the shape of the truculent Gilles, and ultimately of
course, for Claire’s bony, brown, thoroughly inspirational knee.

[Rose Capp is a Lecturer in Cinema Studies and freelance writer on film, currently completing a Ph.D in the Dept. of Visual Culture at Monash University.]

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from Rolando Caputo:

morality

Morality in the Shape of a Girl’s Knee – Le Genou de Claire (Claire’s Knee, 1970) contains one of the most striking compositions in Rohmer’s work. Claire, a girl of sixteen, is perched half way up a ladder under the branches of a cherry tree with one leg erect supporting her weight. Her other leg, with its foot positioned one rung above, juts out at an angle to her body. As if looking at a pyramid askew, the bend in her knee forms the apex of an almost perfect triangle with foot and upper thigh respectively intersecting with the strait line of her other leg and torso. Jerome, a middle aged man soon to be married, stands below her. The finger of his out-stretched arm almost touches the toe of her shoe in a causal but pointed gesture, while his gaze is transfixed by her knee which is positioned slightly above him and as if suspended in space (her upper body is out of frame). One senses in this composition the residue of a pictorial reference: Balthus’ 1940 canvas Le cerisier (The Cherry Picker). Rohmer does not in any way ‘faithfully’ reproduce Balthus’ canvas, rather, what he recognises and makes use of is its understated sensuality. What is absent from Balthus’ cherry picking girl is that exquisite gaze-attracting angle formed by Claire’s knee. Yet, even a cursory glance at any of Balthus’ other major works of an erotic persuasion – Thérèse Dreaming (1938), Nu au chat (1949), Les Beaux jours (1945-46) – confirms the posture of the knee as all important to the distinctiveness of his figurative style. It is not by accident that Jerome’s gaze falls on Claire’s knee and makes of it the desired object; for as Pascal Bonitzer noted, the knee is the mid point between the feet (locus of fetishism) and the girl’s sex (like a good bourgeois he can’t be caught peeking up her dress). Rather, his gaze falls on a ‘neutral’ zone which avoids ‘tainting’ his gaze with vulgarity or committing him to a confirmed passion. The majority of the films which make up the Moral Tales series are about men ‘avoiding’ the sex act and the stratagems they adopt to side-step temptation. If there is a morality to Rohmer’s cinema it is in the very act of where one chooses to direct one’s gaze and the consequences of that act.

[Rolando Caputo is a Lecturer in Cinema Studies at La Trobe University, and a freelance writer on film.]

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from Adrian Danks:

lightness

“Lettuce is more like a friend” – In Rohmer’s Le Rayon Vert there appears a discussion of lightness (of air, of vegetables, of being) that seems to me the very essence of the director’s work. This sequence, within which the above dialogue also appears, revolves around a faltering, at times ludicrous, and plainly silly discussion of the ethics of vegetarianism. I have chosen this sequence as emblematic of Rohmer’s cinema for a number of reasons. First, I am also a vegetarian and the often silly set of excuses and arguments proffered by the film’s central protagonist to explain her life-decision remind me of many of my own justifications for this choice. Second, this sequence has a strange and indescribable reality or naturalism, a quality that I think is the most remarkable aspect of Rohmer’s films (as I’m really not sure where it resides). His films seem to be generated from such flimsy premises, often seem to revolve around such annoying protagonists, seem to be fired by such superficially banal dialogue (and feature some of the most embarrassing party/dance sequences in the history of cinema) and yet they regularly manage to seem more ‘real’ or naturalistic than the work of just about any other filmmaker. This is also despite the fact that his films often seem so contrived, so dated, so conservative, and deal with characters and situations about which the director should hold very little insight. Third, and most significantly, Rohmer’s films revel in an extraordinary airiness, almost a weightlessness, in which things, events and characters appear, on the surface, to lack substance. The greatest achievement of Rohmer’s films is to make art look and feel so artless, and for realism to seem like simplicity itself (in fact not like realism at all). On watching this scene I lose the sense of observing actors performing lines, of a camera shifting perspective (which it does), of a script written around the theme of its central character’s tiresome undecidability. Rather, this scene appears to be unfolding in front of me and the faltering expressions of the characters emerge as newly formed insights into human behaviour and the cinema itself.

[Adrian Danks is President of the Melbourne CinÈmathËque and lectures in cinema and cultural studies at RMIT University, Department of Communication Studies.]

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from Darron Davies:

dignity

Lack of judgement
Furtive glances
The first cry of a bird after dawn
Doubts
Fears
Garden conversations
Not fitting in
Wanting depth
Wanting relationship
Subtle exchanges
The sun’s green ray
A knee
And all along a thanks
In a world pretending toughness and certainty
Someone has sent a truly fresh breeze

[Darron Davies works in education and lives in Ballarat in western Victoria, Australia. He sees films occasionally, finds music equally as enriching and has dabbled in filmmaking, film criticism and acting.]

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from Philippa Hawker:

distance

A formal approach. A gravity. A sense of distance in the frame — there is always a space around the characters, a determination to establish the dimensions and detail of the places where they live and work and pass the time. A corresponding lack of faith in the overbearing, deceptive intimacy of the close-up. An interest in the distances that people travel, both in the quotidian sense — the regular walk down the street, the train journey to work — and in the way that many Rohmerian characters are examined during a period of dislocation, on holiday, in a new city, trying to live in two places at once. The distance between what characters say and what they do — a constant awareness of the dynamics of deception and self-deception. The director’s own distance from his subjects — a dispassionate, curious, observant gaze, not a judgmental one. The distance between those who respond to Rohmer, and those who do not. I have a friend who can’t stand him: “Those abject women,” she says. “So pathetic.” Among anti-Rohmerians, Le Rayon Vert is a particular object of hatred — prickly, particular Delphine and her obsession with the unbearable lightness of vegetables. But I enjoy the experience of being presented with these characters I am not constrained to like or expected to abhor, people I am not invited to identify with or admire, or, conversely, to feel contempt for. I enjoy the idea of going the distance with Rohmer, as it were, of witnessing this long project of contemplation.

[Philippa Hawker is a film reviewer for The Age in Melbourne.]

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from Tina Kaufman:

light

Eric Rohmer is the filmmaker whose work, more than probably any other, has marked out much of my cinemagoing. I think I saw My Night At Maud’s and Claire’s Knee in England, but after I returned to Australia in 1972, it seemed like every year or so another Rohmer would turn up at the Sydney Film Festival. And I’ve loved them all, for their charm, their wit, their very talkativeness, their lightness – especially in those years when festivals seemed dominated by big, heavy, overwhelming films, and the latest Rohmer was a delicious counterbalance. But if I have to select, my favourite Rohmer moment is probably on the cliffs at twilight at the end of Le Rayon Vert (The Green Ray, aka Summer, 1986) waiting with Marie Rivière, who started out as one of cinema’s most irritating lead characters but who has grown perversely appealing; you hope that for her this fanciful tale of a magic green light that appears on the horizon as the sun sets (apparently the basis of a novel by Jules Verne that I’ve not been able to track down) will actually come true. It’s a surprisingly magic moment, ephemeral and very moving.

[Tina Kaufman was editor of Filmnews for 17 years and now works as a freelance writer on film. She is also a member of Watch on Censorship.]

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from Bill Mousoulis:

silence

From about Full Moon in Paris on, silence plays a major role in Rohmer’s work. There are the “functional” silences, as characters, alone, go to work, play, holiday (the ending of Full Moon, the beginnings of the Spring and Summer Contes); there are the symbolic silences, such as the stillness of the “blue hour” in Reinette and Mirabelle or the golden luminance of the “green ray” in Le rayon vert (a ray whose key is that nothing is spoken yet everything is understood); and there is the silence that is always there in the films, existing as the layer beneath all the talk (and that silence sounds loudly, for Rohmer eschews the use of music). And so whilst we can obviously view Rohmer as a comic of manners from the 18th or 17th centuries, or a moralist or romantic from even earlier times (let’s not, after all, forget Perceval and Marquise d’O in his oeuvre), he must now stand as one of the 20th century’s greatest realists. His realism doesn’t speak its name, but its results are there: we see the everyday, we see ordinary people, and ordinary locations, and they are rendered more delicately, exquisitely and, yes, profoundly, than in the films of practically any other director.

[Bill Mousoulis is an independent filmmaker and the co-editor of Senses of Cinema.]

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from Tom Ryan:

restlessness

From the beginning, with a masterful simplicity, Rohmer’s films have been ruled by an air of restlessness. Whether their faces are fresh with the glow of youth or lined with the strains of older vintages, his characters are forever on the move, constantly at odds with the serenity of their surroundings, their comings and goings far more revealing of their dissatisfactions than anything they can find to say about themselves or about life in general. When Isabelle (Marie Rivière) goes to visit her wine-maker friend Magali (Béatrice Romand) soon after Conte D’Automne begins, it’s not by chance that the women’s ennui is suggested by their constant movement around the vineyards rather than through their conversation about grapes, wild snapdragons, snakes and scorpions and the importance of wine being allowed to age gracefully. Nor is it by chance that, wandering away, Isabelle catches her blouse on a thorn.

[Tom Ryan is a freelance writer and a film critic for The Sunday Age in Melbourne.]

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from Brad Stevens:

contradictions

Eric Rohmer’s cinema is full of contradictions: a mise en scène as rigorously controlled as Bresson’s rubbing shoulders with a growing fondness for improvisation; an emotionally mature vision increasingly focused on young protagonists; and a disdain for commercialism which leads to financial success. In England, where masterpieces by Rivette and Chabrol unreel in empty cinemas, no Godard has played theatrically since 1987, and not a single Garrel has ever been distributed, Rohmer enjoys a guaranteed following. It has long been my contention that we cinephiles are nothing more than the wandering ghosts of those mythical ‘regular filmgoers’ associated with the ’30s, ’40s and ’50s: the pleasures we take from new works by, say, Abbas Kiarostami, Hou Hsiao-hsien, Abel Ferrara and Theodoros Angelopoulos – pleasures that involve both recognizing authorial continuity and being surprised by artistic innovation – are surely identical to those felt by the large audiences who watched Rio Bravo, Letter From an Unknown Woman, Notorious, Bonjour Tristesse and Bhowani Junction during their original releases. By contrast, and without wishing to sound reactionary, today’s so-called ‘popular’ audience is an entirely different creature: Speed and Independence Day speak for special interest groups (those representing corporate America) in a way that would have previously been unimaginable, and we must look towards Iran and China to see a genuinely popular modern cinema. Here lies the importance of Rohmer, a good student who learned what classical Hollywood had to teach: not devices to produce emotional responses (cf. Spielberg), but object lessons demonstrating how one can speak relevantly about contemporary society.

[Brad Stevens is a UK-based writer on film who writes a regular column on variant versions of films for The Dark Side and has recently completed a book, Abel Ferrara: The Moral Vision, which is soon to be published in the UK by FAB Press.]

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from Fiona A. Villella:

desire

Desire ignited, by the perfect shape and form a girl’s knee. The desire to be desired and loved, frustrated and thwarted. Desire controlled – stopped, re-directed, manufactured and cultivated. Characters talk about it, acknowledge it, play and experiment with it, define themselves according to it; it flows through and beyond them; it causes and triggers a state of restlessness and curiosity. In the Morality Tales, desire is experienced in spaces and in ways at odds with socially prescribed conventions. In the Season Tales, desire is responsible for multiple relationships and insecurities and final choices. At the root of the fleeting moment, the flash, of a character’s playful smile, sad face slightly titled, sheer wonder at the green ray of a sunset, body and gaze turned from others in a state of distraction, is the working of desire, a force so singularly simple and original yet so complex and ceaseless.

[Fiona A. Villella is co-editor of Senses of Cinema and a Melbourne-based writer on film.]

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from Jake Wilson:

matrix

The directors who began together as the French New Wave were very different from each other, but one thing they had in common was the desire to show life in the process of turning itself into a movie, something physical and immediate controlled by something abstract and invisible, as though narrative were a grid clamped down on the world. Sometimes this leads to stories laid out like chess games or scavenger hunts, with characters racing from one Paris street to another; but in Rohmer’s films, life becomes fiction so gradually you hardly notice till afterwards. One example out of many: Gaspard (Melvil Poupaud) in the wordless first section of A Summer’s Tale, getting off the boat and walking across to the flat where he’s staying, past the sunny beach crowded with people on holiday – a world wide open with possibilities, where anything could happen. For a long time, what does happen seems almost aimless: scenic walks, music, casual flirtations. And then, suddenly, Gaspard finds he’s locked himself down and there are no possibilities left. He’s made commitments to three different girls, and he has to pick one or opt out of the movie. We don’t know exactly how it came about, and neither does he. But looking back over the whole narrative, we can see that nothing in it has really been casual or random; somehow, even the most fleeting, ungraspable things of the world – the way a girl smiles, the weather – have been precisely shaped and arranged so that Rohmer can tell this exact tale.

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Eric Rohmer filmography

L’Anglaise et le duc (The Englishwoman and the Duke) (2000) – currently shooting (on DV)

La Cambrure (1999) (shot on DV) by “Compaigne Eric Rohmer” (a team of collaborators) to be part of Le Modèle, comprising three shorts

Anniversaires (1998) completed four-shorts in one feature by the ER Company

Conte d’automne (Autumn Tale) (1998)

Conte d’été (A Summer’s Tale) (1996)

Les rendez-vous de Paris (Rendezvous in Paris) (1995)

L’Arbre, le maire et la médiathèque (The Tree, The Mayor and the Mediatheque) (1993)

Conte d’hiver (A Winter’s Tale) (1992)

Conte de printemps (A Tale of Springtime) (1990)

L’Ami de mon amie (Boyfriends and Girlfriends) (1987)

4 aventures de Reinette et Mirabelle (Four Adventures of Reinette and Mirabelle) (1987)

Le Rayon vert (The Green Ray) (Summer) (1986)

Les Nuits de la pleine lune (Full Moon in Paris) (1984)

Pauline à la plage (Pauline at the Beach) (1983)

Le Beau mariage (A Good Marriage) (1982)

La Femme de l’aviateur (The Aviator’s Wife) (1980)

Perceval le Gallois (1978)

Die Marquise von O… (The Marquise of O) (1976)

L’Amour l’après-midi (Chloe in the Afternoon) (Love in the Afternoon) (1972)

Le Genou de Claire (Claire’s Knee) (1970)

Ma nuit chez Maud (My Night with Maud) (1969)

La Collectionneuse (The Collector) (1967)

Fermière à Montfauçon (1967) short

Une étudiante d’aujourd’hui (1966) short

segment “Place de l’Étoile” in Paris vu par… (Six in Paris) (1965) short

Carl Dreyer (1965) (TV)

Le Celluloid et la marbre (1965) (TV)

Nadja à Paris (1964) short

La Boulangère de Monceau (The Baker of Monceau) (1963) short

La Carrière de Suzanne (Suzanne’s Career) (1963) short

Le Signe du lion (The Sign of Leo) (1959)

Véronique et son cancre (1958) short

La Sonate à Kreutzer (1956) short

Bérénice (1954) short

Les Petites filles modèles (1952) short

Présentation ou Charlotte et son steak (1951) short

Journal d’un scélérat (1950) short

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