ERIC ROHMER: A TRAVEL GALLERY

This entry was posted on November 26th, 2014

la-boulangere-de-monceau

 

By Claudia Siefen

“And all my films, fabled while travelling…”

There is a nice and humourous scene in Cinéma, de notre temps: Eric Rohmer. Preuves à l’appui (1994): Looking for certain compact cassettes in his new office in Paris, Rohmer plucks out some biscuit tins and smiles delightedly to himself that these tins are particularly well suited, after eating the biscuits of course, to storing those cassettes (usually 12 pieces per biscuit tin). And as his interview partner, Jean Douchet, waits for a wordy version of this interesting hypothesis, Rohmer plucks some more good-humored to himself. Nix with biscuit tins thesis!, the teacher of German Literature smiles.  The friendly-gangly Rohmer is dressed in a blue shirt; you are right to imagine him as nervous but no less humorous for that.

The texts and essays that exist primarily accompanying Rohmers cinematic work, say more about the respective authors, than about the films and their director Eric Rohmer (1920-2010) himself. A graduate in classics and German and until the mid-1950s a professor of literature in provincial France, he always loved to bring back Rimbaud’s mantra into one’s mind: “One must be absolutely modern.” The films by Rohmer always struck me particularly on a certain humour and his joy for and interest in landscapes, his love of pure nature, which is mostly inhabited by the quite yapping protagonists. It is not only a certain helplessness that makes Rohmer depict his protagonists talking for their life, but the pure love of language, words, rhythms and pauses and sometimes, of course, just the desire to hear their own voice. Maybe the healthiest form of self-love?

In the above mentioned documentation from the year 1994 Rohmer hinted that he liked traveling by train: leafing through notebooks, reading here and there for a paragraph, grinning to himself, saying no word, but then suddenly using the phrase “Oh, I am sure you are not interested in this here!” Tourism and going on holiday always served as representative of excitement and possibility, and interestingly enough one detects in Rohmer’s holidaymakers, mostly young girls or women, a certain hostility towards tourists or, more precisely, towards those whom they regard as typical or common tourists.

And Douchets furrows his brow.  I like to imagine Rohmer as a traveler, dashing by flowering landscapes, cloudy horizons, doodling in notebooks.

How about the Cote d’Azur in LaCollectionneuse (1967)? The film concreted Rohmer waving his “red threads” that young women are only given to the world to comfort men neatly during their mid-life crises. And here the men see themselves seduced, yes, downright abused by the desire of a young woman. Terrifically and also bravely unraveled by Rohmer, he caught such ridiculous stupid thoughts, maybe thinking even of his own attraction to teenage women. Sometimes a bare knee is just a bare knee, while the male world feels all at once provoked.

Moving onto the mountainous landscape of Annecy in Le genou de Claire (1970), where Rohmer again drives the existence and “provocation” of a female knee and the male reactions to their extremes. Again flooded with sunlight and dialogues elder men have to resist the calculated femininity, or precisely not. So Rohmer’s characters do chatter on, analysing, explaining, excusing. Through the words there is often some other motive glimpsed or feeling expressed, the realisation that you’re watching a subtler film than is immediately apparent. Les Nuits De La Pleine Lune (1984) is chatty again, we are in Paris, and the story teases around the paradox of simultaneously wanting the excitement and freedom of an affair alongside the safety and intimacy of a long-term relationship. The two houses turn out to be a shared one in Marne-la-Vallée and a pied-à-terre in Paris. Paris, as city and experience.

Rohmer illuminates Paris with the same tenderness he can bestow his female performers. Paris vu par… from 1965 can Rohmer with his camera the Place de l’Étoile orbit, a tender and wild blend of documentary and less of imaginary episode;red lights in a city will be hereafter considered with completely different eyes. Or another early work, namely La Carrière de Suzanne (1963). Two students in Paris follow their passions, as regards the female sex. The quite active, the other more observant in the background and both are clear that Suzanne is a pretty sly copy. But just it is the fully conscious of their needs is the end and the middle-class large lot! Sounds even when La boulangère de Monceau (1962) Paris and shines, while a young student, a gorgeous blonde, promises a future adventure, between a voluminous cute brunette girl is still considered but discarded again after the blonde again appears on the scene. And it will just be that lady who “only” leads but in the port of marriage, while the brunette mysteriously disappears.

Paris, a trap? In Rohmer’s early works we encounter these stories often. It seems he is showing little interest in plot or action, Rohmer concentrates on demonstrating how the city itself becomes an objective ­correlative to his hero’s and heroine’s state of mind, gradually metamorphosing from a welcoming city into a bleak stone desert. A little excitement is pretty nice, but soon everything must please look like this again, as one who exemplified the parents. Sound and music are doing their remaining (we remember the Compact Cassette from Rohmer’s interview). Paris remains the city he loves: almost a strict poem his documentary-like essay.

L’ère industrielle: Métamorphoses du paysage (1964) raises complex issues about the meaning and experience of modern landscapes and the enigmatic characteristics of features such as canals, pylons and deserted factories. The film demonstrates a sophisticated and beautifully constructed account of landscape-change in and around Paris in the early 1960s. Exploring the role of landscape within different traditions of modern art and design, referring also to specific architects and engineers.

Set in seaside Brittany in general and towns like Dinard, Saint Malo and Saint Lunaire specifically, Conte d’été (1996) begins with Gaspard, a handsome young man getting off a ferry to spend a few weeks of vacation along the area’s beaches in the hopes of a summer romance before he has to take up a boring office job.There Rohmer leaves a young man alone with his guitar,in confusion and falling into debt, and a young woman again.

While Gaspard is concerned about his future and is waiting for his girlfriend, another woman  comes to play an important role in his life. Traveling is important here, too. A quote here from Léna, another character in Conte d’été  is when she tells her boyfriend: “I hate tourists.” With Rohmer “traveling” is often seen as the antidote to tourism, for travelers, they assert, they are individuals: they go where they want and stay in a chosen place for as long as they please. So it is often with Rohmer, who himself likes to avoid it, to show people in the exercise of their professions. Romantic love plays a completely idealized role, his protagonists despair of this idealization, but without restricting it seem not to want to go through life. And as he said: “I am curious about people’s lives, even when it tells me nothing new…”

Such”professional denial” shows the way,particularly in Les amours d’Astrée et de Céladon (2007); there isover a hundred minutes, the speech of amorous shepherds and shepherdesses, and when do you get a few sheep to see? In the first 12 minutes we see them running here and there twice, woolly and sufficient. The film’s source is a novel by Honore d’Urfe, published between 1607 and 1627. Rohmer extracts a concise narrative from this novel, concerning the troubled courtship between young shepherdess Astrea and her beloved swain Celadon. The setting is ancient Gaul, imagined as an idyllic landscape populated by innocent rurals, aristocratic nymphs and wise druids. This film’s fifth-century Gaul is really, as the opening titles point out, a fantasy land imagined by seventeenth-century French society, and it’s this ambivalent vision that the film evokes. Rohmer makes us very aware that we are really watching present-day actors performing a sort of ritual among real French landscapes.

In Le rayon vert (2001) we travel in the north-west of France to Cherbourg. The main character Delphine brings us here with her shyness and passivity to madness, because eagerly looking for true love, it would be exactly just that what she would admit to anyone.The film concerns Delphine’s summer holiday. She is nervous, will not compromise, feels out of place, and is not averse to explaining her ideals at length over a salad. Delphine is also quietly awed by the world: a sudden wind in the bushes makes her stop; the power of the sea makes her stay on the shore; the snow in the mountains makes her awkwardly reach down to touch its coldness. Everything should just happen, everything should be done magically, because valuable experiences are only when they are announced by a higher power, so to speak. Delphine brings not only her friends to despair, but with a wild mane of hair and a sad sight it happens to her after all. Delphine wants, or does not intend yet? The train wheels rattle on, about to Biarritz on the Atlantic coast. Ah, the sea!

Or the Rhone valley, the beautiful scenery of the Midi in Conte d’automne (1998). Surrounded by vineyards and well-meaning friends can Rohmer languish a woman for the love of a man. But how do you take this? Nature as the event of growth, because the vines need lots of sun to become wine once. Thus, the relationships between people, love should because once in reliance thereon. Alleged secret recipes when it comes to wine and love, dissolve rapidly in air and eventually turn out to be completely unnecessary.

In the north of France, more precisely in Montfaucon, Rohmer shows us the daily life of a farmer. The vegetable production may not be enough andso shows us Rohmer in Fermière à Montfaucon (1967) an insight into the local municipal politics Monique Sendron. And what happens just before the eyes of the director, he tried to objectively capture. Rural romance are nowhere. Almost like a documentary so during his feature film L’arbre, le maire et la médiatèque (1993) many years later, this romance. As a writer jumps eloquently through a garden, admires the blooming trees, sings for joy when viewing shapely vegetables and tender green herbs. Oh, in the countryside everything is immersed in such pretty colors! During her lover. The things to be planted and therefore need to grow. Basta. And while the poet still indicates that the person belongs  in the cities, a journalist covering another scandal, a young girl brings all still to reason and everyone singing at the end. And the clouds drift by.

This article’s epigraph was found in a letter written by Rohmer in 1972, he then wrote to the Austrian Film Museum because of an upcoming visit to Vienna and he asked for the possibility to travel by train, because …: “And all my films, fabled while travelling…”. According to “Who’s Who in France,” Rohmer was born in Tulle, a city in southwestern France. Other sources place his origins in the northeastern city of Nancy.… Still travelling with Rohmer.