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At the cinematheque: "Du côté d'Orouët" (Rozier, France, 1973)

Daniel Kasman
Jacques Rozier is a name few American fans of the French New Wave will recall, but the writers—and by then, filmmakers—of the Cahiers du cinema who literally defined the New Wave jumped all over Rozier's feature debut, the quite hard to see Adieu Phillipine (1962). Between that and Du côté d'Orouët (1973)—the only two features of the director I've been able to see (the excellent 1964 documentary short on Brigitte Bardot, Paparazzi, is available on Criterion's DVD of Contempt)—Rozier carves perhaps the most remarkable niche of all: a director jumping into the New Wave as if it was a natural means of expression. Featuring none of the zany energy, genre-hopping, American-film referencing, and formal assuredness of the more well-known members of the movement, Rozier in these two features embraces verité influences and a focus on young lives, culture, and sensibility to create veritable fictive documentaries on French urban youth.
Jettisoning the conventional film backbones of strong characterization and strong story, Du côté d'Orouët, a nearly three hour film of a trio of young girls taking their summer vacation at a villa on the coast, spends its great deal of time on other concerns. These, namely, are an evocation of ease and freedom of activity, the rare tactile impression of air existing between his characters—a style that seems to invite such descriptions as "a study of youthful behavior" but posits no poignancy based on how they behave and instead just observes them, day to day. Taking place over three weeks separated almost arbitrarily with haphazard daily title cards, title cards dividing innocuous activities (such as a visit to a farm), dates, and times of day, Rozier's narrative sidesteps obvious spectacle events—the girls attending a local casino with one man, and later a night club with another—for such non-events as a day's excursion on a sail boat, the procurement of pastries and the playing of cards on a windy night, the preparation for cooking a rather large eel, and other such not-quite-quotidian, not-quite-plot-points during the vacation.
To capture this, Rozier uses primarily handheld cameras to provide constant coverage through over-lapping editing,  short shot lengths, and post-sync sound bridges. This is far away from the techniques of realism espoused by the New Wave, yet the emphasis on realism is very similar. This is not necessarily the material realism of some New Wave members (Rivette, Godard), that announces the existence of actual things inside the mise-en-scène. The realism Du côté d'Orouët espouses is of a milieu and the general, practically generic pleasures, pains, and lifestyle of that milieu—in other words, the realism of a certain kind of youthful sensibility.
There is no doubt that the honesty of this approach brings a danger to Rozier's filmmaking; both Adieu Philippine and Du côté d'Orouët have a kind of vanilla plainness to their plots and the behavior of their characters—what actually happens and who the film is specifically about are never all that special. Likewise, this honesty can leave mediocre characters mediocre; there is an annoying quality to the giddy, giggly girlishness that makes up much of Du côté d'Orouët's first two hours, before sadness sets in.
From this approach, one may think that Rozier is the equivalent of termite New Wave films, with flashes of meaning lurking at the edge of the screen, of the events, behavior, and characters. Still, as a small plot asserts itself in the film's final third—one character finally shows a concrete desire for one of the girls, and one of the girl's desire for a different man draws the vacation idyll to a close—Rozier begins to drive home the point and the film, nevertheless taking his leisurely time to gather the melancholy and express it through similar rote activity and the sensibility felt through the everyday performed with little psychology and direction. The accumulation of these unweighted moments gather to a profoundness, but also a profound strangeness; without the conventional anchor of a thematic or plot point towards which these quotidian scenes will inevitably point, the film ends on a note of near total uncertainty. This is not in the sense of leaving developed things unconcluded, but rather in the sense of leaving much of the film undeveloped in the first place. We see a snatch, and little more, of a time, feeling, and activities of people whose ultimate place in life is still uncertain, perhaps as much for them as for us.
Baring considerable similarity to other late New Wave films like Rivette's Celine and Julie Go Boating and Eustache's The Mother and the Whore in the atmospheric nonchalance that finds the magic of the cinema and the magic between people located in far more downplayed, bohemian settings and lives than film has explored in the past, Rozier's film takes a stranger pathway to a kind of Portrait of Youth at a Time and Place. The film is given over entirely to the youth with sensibility and feel intact, specifics and context missing, if not entirely cast off. Whether or not a three hour movie can survive almost entirely on its fresh sensibility and excerpt-from-the-moment timeliness is another question, but the kind of honestly and directness of Du côté d'Orouët is rare enough to be celebrated in its own right
Du côté d'Orouët played in the traveling retrospective, Jean Eustache's Circle.


Jacques Rozier
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