Sublime: Love in the Afternoon

Love in the Afternoon (1972)
Written and directed by Eric Rohmer
Produced by Pierre Cottrell, Barbet Schroeder
Starring Bernard Verley, Zouzou, Françoise Verley, Malvina Penne, Elisabeth Ferrier, Daniel Ceccaldi
His sixth and final Moral Tale conforms to the formula of Rohmer’s series: an ethical protagonist adherent to a principle or persuasion encounters a lively lady whose allure entices him through a sinuous sequence of events to violate his code or conviction — a temptation skirted by sly expedient. Actual spouses Bernard and Françoise reflect reality as a childed couple, he a cogitative attorney wed to her gravid undergraduate, for whom his adoration’s not a whit diminished by the beauteous, quotidian spectacle of strange sylphs though wandering eyes. Enter a capricious barmaid and sometime model (Zouzou), a former acquaintance whose continual, conversational rendezvous comfort him while compounding a restlessness issuing from marital monotony. By purportedly incidental circumstances, she adopts the roles of his friend, dependant and repository to insinuate herself into his spare hours, but her libidinous objective connotes neither commitment nor any fleeting fling. Meditative narration and interaction of a grace to match that of his leisurely, fastidiously framed zooms and pans typify Rohmer’s limpid restraint, here in address of suburban malaise and the struggle to reconcile integrity and libido. However, the redoubtable purveyor of personal realism departs amusingly from form during a reverie wherein a philter empowers Verley to seduce femmes (Haydée Politoff, Françoise Fabian and Marie-Christine Barrault, Aurora Cornu and Laurence de Monaghan) of three anteceding Moral Tales…save one…! From an era when casual advoutry was nigh pro forma, this affirmation of constancy posited that the most challenging amatorial thrill may be found in an embrace not of assignation, but waiting at home.

Palatable: The Tree, the Mayor and the Mediatheque

The Tree, the Mayor and the Mediatheque (1993)
Directed and written by Eric Rohmer
Produced by Françoise Etchegaray
Starring Pascal Greggory, Clémentine Amouroux, Fabrice Luchini, Arielle Dombasle, Galaxie Barbouth, François-Marie Banier, Michel Jaouen, Jessica Schwing
What for a Costa-Gavras or Loach might seem paradoxical was for Rohmer congruent: his most political feature’s also among his lightest, contextualized in seven parts of as many crucial consiliences from which its plot proceeds. To promote education, entertainment and his career after a loss in a regional election, a benign socialist mayor (Greggory) more familiar with the lush, beauteous botany of his rural town than his own constituents designs to fund the construction of a cultural and sporting complex incorporating a library, theater, pool, record retail outlet and expo center. His unexpected obstacles include a grand old white willow scheduled for extirpation upon the projected building site, and its most clamant champion, a feisty, irate, emphatically apolitical schoolteacher (Luchini) intractably opposed to this scheme. A penetrative magazine editor (Amouroux) dubious of both men interviews all of the town’s involved and affected parties, and finds herself stymied less by corruption than limits of pagination and journalistic virtue. Equally unimpressed, the mayor’s contentious (though hardly eristical) girlfriend (Dombasle), a Parisian novelist dedicated to urbanism, courts companionable contestation with everyone, especially her swain. As stalwart an environmentalist as a Catholic, Rohmer cunningly conferred to these characters his own convictions or their antitheses: Luchini’s preceptor elaborates the veteran cineaste’s antipathy for industrial encroachment, the environmental taint generated by automotive proliferation and the sprawl of freeways, and logistical inefficiencies engendered by the enforcement of global trade, while Greggory’s mayor disdains Parisian centralization of culture and aspires to revitalize his pastoral home. Ironically, both men suspect one another of base motives — the excitable educator colligates his grievances into erroneous speculation that urbanist’s ambitions incite his phytolophilic mayor, who in turn surmises the teacher may be a pawn of a disgruntled green faction — without imagining the actuality of their kindred sensibilities. Bucolics of Saint-Juire-Champgillon such as farmers, a shopkeeper and a toller interviewed by Amouroux in character respond with a charming provincial candor that fortifies this production’s verisimilitude and furnishes insight into the lifestyle and ethos of the French rustic. As always, Rohmer inspires in his cast exceeding performance in the enactment of his script’s attic monologues and exchanges. Beyond matters aesthetic, architectural or ecological expounded throughout, the laudable subtexts that validate Rohmer’s political maturity are those that doomed this picture to international obscurity, affirming that even local politics present more problems than solutions, and that neither national nor individual character can be resolved with an inhuman ideological dichotomy.

Sublime: The Marquise of O

The Marquise of O (1976)
Directed by Eric Rohmer
Written by Heinrich von Kleist, Eric Rohmer
Produced by Barbet Schroeder, Klaus Hellwig
Starring Edith Clever, Bruno Ganz, Edda Seippel, Peter Lühr, Otto Sander
In retrospect, one can scarcely imagine a filmmaker more opportune an adaptor than Rohmer of Kleist’s Napoleonic novel; notwithstanding the French auteur’s precedent dedication to contemporary narrative, his deliberately austere, loquacious, novelistic and unscored style perfectly befits that gentle treatment of faltered rectitude and familial discord in a thoroughly Catholic context. In a small Italian town besieged by Russian forces, a peeraged, dashingly gallant Lieutenant-Colonel (Ganz) rescues its governor’s comely and widowed daughter (Clever) from ravishment at the hands of his juniors immediately afore his capture of the community’s citadel. Erroneous hearsay of his demise in battle succeeding an abrupt leave shock the Marquise and her family less than the count’s visitation soon thence, passionate profession of love for her or impetration for her marital hand, for which he demonstrates his willingness to sacrifice his military career and suffer court-martial. Unaccountable and symptomatic evidence of her gravidity further complicates the irreproachable lady’s dubiety regarding her suitor while straining her filial relations to sunderance; only the conciliatory force of love can absolve sudden sins commoved by supposition and sanctimony, or the irresistible impulsion of lust. Outstanding performances by this film’s famed cast invest to their every exchange a stately conviction, but many of its finest moments reside in the fleeting, unspoken idyll of children, craft and natural splendor. Paired with Néstor Almendros’s muted photography, Rohmer’s painterly composition is as kindred to neoclassical portraiture as the exceedingly elaborate pageantry of Kubrick’s coetaneous Barry Lyndon, and this lauded first and finest of his period pictures is as cosily, simply satisfying as ever: another in a string of classics from the most uncompromisingly authentic and economical of the nouvelle vague’s luminaries.