The most subtle and traditional of the many luminaries launched to prominence as a member of the French New Wave, Eric Rohmer is also among the movement’s most consistent and enduring talents. Basing his work upon antecedents in literature as much as those in the cinema, Rohmer made his name crafting talky, feather-light romantic comedies and chamber dramas distinguished by economical camerawork, a warmly ironic tone, an affection for youth, and a fascination with place and time. His intensely personal private life — according to legend, not even his own mother knew he was an internationally acclaimed, albeit pseudonymously named, filmmaker — has stood in direct contrast to the emotional openness of his movies, which, in intimate and illuminating detail, explore the limitless entanglements, disappointments, and possibilities facing contemporary relationships.
Born Jean-Marie Maurice Scherer on December 1, 1920, in Nancy, France, Rohmer later relocated to Paris, where he worked variously… read more
Rohmer was as dextrous as an expert spider, weaving tales as light as gossamer. As a film-maker he was also a gardener, a lover of nature, a careful tender of young plants, yet happy to allow the freedom to grow and wander too (improvisation in The Green Ray adds to its natural yet magical reality); master of colour and the seasons, and in summer especially the results are glorious. A philosopher, muser on fate, free will, temptation and moral choices, ever youthful in spirit, eager to follow his own path and yet able to spring daring surprises to the end. Who else in France these days would have shown the Revolution from the point of view of the Aristocrats? Which film is like Romance of Astrea and Celadon, a tale of young love’s misunderstandings in the time of the druids, seen from the pastoral courtly perspective of a 16th century novelist? Here we have a combination of his trademark young relationships and something of the stylisation of his occasional period films- he appears as much at ease with ages of enlightenment and chivalry as the modern era. A Catholic, looking down now from a better place. A gallant courtly knight, with a romantic soul to match his intellect and a healthy interest in and respect for women; they are worth getting to know and care about. A lover of the sensuous too; more eroticism in a knee being caressed than any amount of Hollywood grunting and grandstanding. As Gilbert Adair has pointed out, his scripts are much more sophisticated than his characters’ dialogue. And as Geoff Andrew says, Rohmer “exposes the frailty of intention and the erroneous vanity of self-image”. His characters have their foibles- their proclamations and babbling often undercut by their actions or the reality we know better than they- but few are judged harshly, as his observational style has an underlying warmth. Rohmer’s films are more cinematic than often credited- the dialogue an extra layer or counterpoint to what he shows visually, as well as a vehicle for the expression of ideas. And he was acutely attuned to the sounds of nature and the street, to the small gestures, glances and details in relationships. See his films alongside Guerin’s In the City of Sylvia which has been widely praised as pure and cinematic, and which even before i saw The Baker Girl of Monceau, i could see was indebted to Rohmer. A modest man, of wide-ranging abilities (novelist and teacher too), content not to broadcast himself with an ego-boosting megaphone, but quietly- so quietly that apparently his own mother was unaware he was a world famous director (he did change his name for that role). In his 1951 short Charlotte et son Steak, not released till 1960, you can see the New Wave coming. He was the mature quiet man of the Nouvelle Vague, and before that a crucial figure in the history of film criticism, editor of the still influential Cahiers du Cinéma as it challenged the world order.
His method of turning realistic and everyday situations into philosophical theories and debates is the primary reason why I love this director.