Friday, January 29, 2010

The "eldest brother" of the New Wave: Deceased Artiste Eric Rohmer

Eric Rohmer remains for me a “subject for further research” (phrase courtesy Andrew Sarris). I have thoroughly enjoyed the films of his I’ve seen, and yet I haven’t seen a good deal of his oeuvre. Perhaps this is due to the fact that he grouped his films in themed series, and although the films can be viewed individually with no loss of comprehension, the completist in me always wants to watch a series of films in the order it was released in. Perhaps it’s because Rohmer’s films are inherently literary in nature, and as such are chockfull of dialogue and characterization, as opposed to the poetry (Godard) and mystery (Rivette) found in my favorite New Wave films (although without question Rohmer stayed “purer” to his own vision of an intellectual cinema than Truffaut and Chabrol did to their initial rebel tendencies). Perhaps it’s simply because Rohmer made films the way Woody Allen has here in the U.S. — and although Woody favors Bergman as his model, I do see him more firmly following in the footsteps of Rohmer. Which is to say, he produced a steady flow of films that ranged from mini-masterworks to deftly realized but forgettable character studies (with his view of Paris and other locales being akin to Woody’s magical depictions of NYC). Sometimes the more films a filmmaker produces, the more I need to see everything he or she has made; sometimes I just see the “classics” and wind up losing track of the artist’s work in midstream.

In any case, what Rohmer did well, he did extremely well. And that was depicting the nuances of male-female relationships, keeping the viewer focused on the action by avoiding all “frills” (close-ups, flagrant musical soundtracks), and, let’s be honest here, casting really beautiful women as objects of desire, usually found in bathing suits on a beach.

A very early Rohmer work, shot in the early Fifties but not released until 1960, is the short Presentation, ou Charlotte et son Steak, starring none other than Uncle Jean himself, our hero Godard. He is so young here he’s not wearing glasses, has hair, and is ridiculously thin. He dubbed his own voice when Rohmer released the film in 1960, and Anna Karina and Stephane Audran dubbed the voices of the two actresses.

Rohmer’s first feature, Le Signe du Lion (1959), is very rarely seen on these shores. Here is a pretty thorough trailer from its initial release, running three minutes long:

And here is a key scene for Uncle Jean lovers, JLG does with a record player what Jean-Pierre Leaud later did with a CD in his terrific Grandeur et Decadense…. So does that mean Rohmer came up with this bit, or did Godard do it at parties to drive everyone nuts?

The opening of the short Nadja a Paris (1964), sans English subs (it’s all about location and girl here):

Rohmer’s first venture in color is BRIGHTLY colored, perhaps because it was released in the magic little year of 1967. La Collectioneuse can be found in its entirety here. This is a peek at the film's opening, and the quite lovely Haydéee Politoff dressed for some conversation:

Pauline at the Beach (1983) was one of Rohmer’s bigger arthouse hits over here. This is the U.S. home video trailer for the film. I love these odd artifacts of VHS Past:

Another underseen Rohmer title, starring the terrific Pascale Ogier (who died tragically at the age of 26), Full Moon in Paris (1984). Here, my friends, is a a little slice of the Gallic Eighties:

Rohmer’s final series was the “Tales of Four Seasons.” Here is the trailer for A Tale of Summer (1996):

I hate just linking to trailers, but Rohmer’s films are notoriously hard to excerpt. Here is the preview for The Lady and the Duke (2001), a period piece in which Rohmer made brilliant use of CGI to render period atmosphere:

And a wonderful rarity, Rohmer’s film of Jean Renoir and Henri Langlois speaking about the Lumiere bros, Louis Lumiere (1968):

My own offering is a slice of Rohmer acting for his friend Jacques Rivette in the intricate and wonderful miniseries Out 1 (1970). Rohmer plays an expert on Balzac who lectures Jean-Pierre Leaud on the mysterious group known as the “Thirteen.” This very dialogue- and seemingly plot-portent-laden scene comes in the series’ third episode after there has been *very* little dialogue. Thanks to Zach for pointing the existence of this English-subbed print out, and Paul for transferring it so awesomely:

And the chunkier second part of the scene:

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