19 February 2007

Tales of summer

Though none of these would be among my top two dozen favorite movies, I have been watching Éric Rohmer films set in summer resort areas to take my mind off the weather, a pastime I recommend because, among other reasons, no cinematographer photographs summer better than Néstor Almendros, and these are all shot by him unless noted. These don’t include films (like Chloé in the Afternoon) which may take place in the summer, just beach films and, yes, I’m going to rank them now:

1. Claire’s Knee. Respecting and liking the main characters of a Rohmer film is not a necessary requirement for its enjoyment, even though some of his films (like, say, Boyfriends and Girlfriends) cannot overcome the mundane characters that inhabit them. This film revolves around three likable characters, a fourth, Claire, who is more distant, and ancillary characters whose contemptibility is convenient. Much is gained from the presence of the writer Aurora whose conversations with the male protagonist about the minutia of his caprices are essential to the end product. You can’t ask for a more pleasant visual evocation of summer than this photography of the Alpine Annecy lake region. The DVD includes a wonderful 1999 short film by writer-director-actress Edwidge Shakti called The Curve, filmed with Rohmer's supervision.

2. Pauline at the Beach. As Rohmer’s films attempt to accurately depict the romantic behavior of different regions of France, one expects a different result in this, a film about vacationers from Paris to a nearby coast (St-Malo - Granville region, with some exterior footage of Mont-St-Michel) than, say, Clermont-Ferrand (where My Night at Maud’s takes place including extended church footage). Rohmer himself is from Alsace (real name Scherer), but I don’t think he sets a film in Alsace, though I would like to see one.

Just saw this.. Didn’t remember much from previous viewings but this is an absolutely fascinating film. Like Rohmer’s best films, every character is essential to the dramatic tension of the film. 15-year-old Pauline stays with the older Marion, who snubs the romantic Pierre for the deceitful, mediocre Henri, who in turn mentors the young Sylvain, who had been flirting with Pauline. Spoiler alert: All the characters come off as contemptible except Pierre, who, since he’s the romantic protagonist, we expect to see win his sentimental payoff or at least follow him into dejection. Instead he disappears from the film completely in the last act and we are left with only the characters connected by a web of deception, followed by an epilogue which is likewise guided more by Rohmer’s perceptions of human behavior than sentimental cinematic conventions.

A Summer’s Tale. This is a very enjoyable film full of likable characters and some delightful sea shanties. It is set in Brittany, which makes for lush scenery and you can guess how the traditional Celtic setting affects the outcome of the film. Amiable musician Gaspard has to choose between three girls, two of whom are quite personable and one which is his snobby would-be girlfriend that has been avoiding him, and his indecision takes up 95% of the film. Shot by Diane Baratier, various scenes on Youtube without subtitles.

4. Summer (also The Green Ray). This film follows a sulking young vegetarian woman who feels (with justification) above other people that has no plans for her summer vacation, no boyfriend, and no one to travel with. The Aristotelian crisis is that she doesn’t have a plan for having fun. As you would expect this makes for fine cinema, starting in Paris and moving to the Alps and Biarritz. Shot by Sophie Maitigneux, co-written by the lead actress, with a lot of improvisation.

5. La Collectionneuse. In The Five Obstructions, a favorite of mine, Jørgen Leth describes this as his favorite Rohmer film while hiring its star, Patrick Bauchau, for his short film with no obstructions which he sets initially in Bauchau’s native Belgium. La Collectionneuse is Bauchau’s first break in what became a long film career. Claire’s Knee is his best performance from what I’ve seen, but here the film is set around a tension between Bauchau, the host of a St. Tropez villa and ‘The Collector,’ a female guest who beds a parade of guys he doesn’t like, a tension that doesn’t become all too dramatic for my tastes.

1 comment:

Ian Keenan said...

Actually Rohmer's antithesis of the ending of Pauline is that of A Tale of Winter, which doesn't appear to be on dvd yet.