The book aims to provide a balanced appraisal of Eric Rohmer's oeuvre in historical context. Although interpretation of individual films will not be its main objective, representative examples from the director's twenty-five features and fiction shorts will be presented throughout. The focus is on production history and reception in the mainstream French press. This key stylistic editing trait cannot be appreciated without reference to André Bazin's concept of ontological realism, of which Rohmer was a major exponent at Cahiers du cinéma. To establish the intertexts and artistic principles his films put into play, the book reviews the abundant critical writings Rohmer published in France from the late 1940s to the early 1960s. It explores how sound and image are configured, and to what effect. The book then broaches issues central to the director's finest work for the screen. 'Seriality and theme', devoted to the Contes moraux, Comédies et proverbes, and Contes des quatre saisons, looks at how Rohmer's decision to work by thematic series forces the viewer to intuit relations of complementarity, identity, and opposition that lend each cycle a complex, musical texture. It pays close attention to four of the director's costume films. The book concludes with a brief excursus on le rohmérien, that inimitable, instantly recognisable variant of the French language that spectators come to love or to hate.
This introduction presents the key concepts discussed in the subsequent chapters of this book. The book aims to provide a balanced appraisal of Rohmer's oeuvre in historical context. Although interpretation of individual films will not be its main objective, representative examples from the director's twenty-five features and fiction shorts will be presented throughout. It is fitting that an intimist cinema devoted to the analysis of sentiment should have so aroused critics' passions, however late in the director's life course. While some of these criticisms can be levelled against the director-based French cinema as a whole, others seem to dog Rohmer specifically, who has long drawn inspiration from such 'literary' sources as the short story and stage play. Rohmer's predecessors are not only Marivaux, Musset, and Dostoyevsky, but Murnau, Renoir, Rossellini, and Hitchcock, to name but a few.
Eric Rohmer was born to Jean-Marie Maurice Schérer in 1920 in Tulle, a provincial backwater in south-western France, halfway between Bordeaux and Clermont-Ferrand. This chapter presents a full career overview of Rohmer. It focuses on production history and reception in the mainstream French press. The chapter provides reliable information and a convenient framework for grasping what is an extensive, but by no means unmanageable, body of work. By showing healthy disdain for the industry's starsystem, Rohmer has styled himself as a fiercely independent creator, a cinéaste du dimanche, or Sunday filmmaker, whose energies are entirely given to the pleasures of creation, as distinguished from the pursuit of public recognition. His features have garnered half a dozen major prizes at European festivals, but not one has been nominated for a César, the chief distinction awarded by the French motion picture industry.
In the narrative cinema, style is often assumed to lie on the side of visible excess. It is the domain of the provocateur, the virtuoso, the formalist, the mannerist. This chapter presents the interdependence of film style and technique in the director's pursuit of cinematographic realism. It explores how sound and image are configured, and to what effect. And what is the production process envisaged from screenplay to shoot. In addressing cinematography, mise en scène, sound design, and music in synoptic fashion, the chapter shows why Rohmer's deceptively prosaic mode of presentation is ultimately so effective in sustaining and critiquing cinematic illusion at one and the same time. The filmmaker's practice runs slightly against the grain of the institutional mode of representation (IMR), prompting viewers to listen and look at the texture of a film and question assumptions about how film language works in its classical and modernist guises.
This chapter is devoted to the Contes moraux, Comédies et proverbes, and Contes des quatre saisons, and looks at how Rohmer's decision to work by thematic series forces the viewer to intuit relations of complementarity, identity, and opposition that lend each cycle a complex, musical texture. Seriality forces the viewer to adopt a self-critical attitude and to refuse absorption in favour of active comparison. As it examines the internal dynamics and discursive model(s) of each of Rohmer's three major series, the chapter aims to problematise the notion that a classically inspired cinema of psychological refinements must be anti-modern or, worse, reactionary. Cast by some critics as a right-leaning bourgeois humanist, Rohmer can also be viewed, on the basis of his cycles, as the same manner of formalist that he and Chabrol considered Alfred Hitchcock to be: a consummate 'inventor of forms'.
While photography and editing remain realist at base, art-historical allusions situate the film in relation to a broad history of representation in the West which partly transcends Kleist's story. This chapter focuses on the art or, rather, the difficulty of representing the past. It pays close attention to four of the director's costume films, each of which rethinks the cinema in relation to the artistic imaginary of past epochs. The bulk of Rohmer's fictions feature contemporary characters who lead modern lifestyles and use up-to-date language. On several occasions, the director has turned the clocks backward, looking to moments as remote as the high Middle Ages and Revolutionary and Napoleonic Europe, and as recent as the 1930s and 1940s. In Kleist's Die Marquise von O… of 1811, Rohmer ascribes total authority to the source text, literature-to-film adaptations, subordinating his designs to Kleist's narrator's indications of mood, action, and speech.
To establish the intertexts and artistic principles his films put into play, this chapter reviews the abundant critical writings Rohmer published in France from the late 1940s to the early 1960s. The film's mechanical, objective character, which Bazin first proposed in a landmark essay of 1945 on the 'ontology' of the photographic image, heralded in Rohmer's view a Copernican revolution, for it set cinema firmly apart from the other arts. The chapter aims to present and contextualise Rohmer's primary theoretical and critical insights. Yet Rohmer's writings warrant attention not simply as a pillar of high criticism within the local history of postwar French film comment. Despite the enthusiasm for Hollywood he shared with the Young Turks, Rohmer remains at base a Bazinian, for whom the cinema is inseparable from the belief in the camera's capacity for revealing the world in a manner unique among the arts.
This conclusion presents some closing thoughts on the concepts discussed in this book. The book provides a brief excursus on le rohmérien, that inimitable, instantly recognisable variant of the French language that spectators come to love or to hate. In a world where gun-slinging, pistol-packing men short on vocabulary and long on machismo have all but defined what it means to be a hero (and even a heroine), the characters whom Eric Rohmer has brought to the screen may come across as impossibly lightweight. A keen sense of economy encouraged by Les Films du Losange and his own Compagnie, Eric Rohmer has only reinforced the director in his dedication to theme and variation as an enabling artistic and commercial principle. In a hundred years' time, media archaeologists may look back to Eric Rohmer's oeuvre as one of the odder embodiments of a belatedly classical aesthetic.
Modern French town planning discourse was predicated on the idea that better architecture made for better, happier citizens, with rational architectural principles as the means to a fully realised modernity. After 1968, French filmmakers looked to the suburban new towns to voice the ambiguities and contradictions of rapid urbanisation. In Le Chat (Granier-Deferre, 1972), an ageing couple enter a downward social and psychological spiral as new high-rise construction menaces their decrepit suburban villa. The rough-and-ready La Ville bidon (Jacques Baratier, 1976) shows the struggle of junkmen and their marginalised families to resist expropriation at the hands of a town council that aims to develop a new town on a massive dumpsite. A spoof of streamlined post-modern living, Le Couple témoin (William Klein, 1978) parodies new town rhetoric under the guise of social experiment. The chapter concludes with a double reading of Eric Rohmer’s Les Nuits de la pleine lune (1984) and L’Ami de mon amie (1987) which by turns laud the new towns for their blend of leisure and work and deride their programmed aspect. Dysphoric and euphoric elements of suburban living are related to class-based investments and to the elusive prospect of happiness.