Because, you know, why even bring up something such as "the pulp imagination of Eric Rohmer" when such a quality is never manifested in any of his films?
Or is it?
First, to the question of why even bring it up. Well, it's the pseudonym. Maurice Scherer, "Momo" to his pals, supposedly chose the name Eric Rohmer our of respect for two authors: Eric Ambler, the British and relatively respectable creator of spy thrillers such as The Mask of Dmitrios; and Sax Rohmer, the altogether more disreputable creator of that racist embodiment of the, ahem, "Yellow Peril," the arch-villain Fu Manchu. So he must have liked that kind of thing. You'd not likely get this from his films, which are peopled with largely refined and cultivated characters who almost unfailingly maintain a sense of good taste even as Rohmer is peeling back their façades and dissecting their rather silly and sometimes profoundly sad emotional cores. And one searches for such a jones in vain while scouring Rohmer's critical works. I presume there are still some out there who consider Hitchcock and Preminger somewhat trashy, but Rohmer approaches these two artistic heroes of his, again, with a strength of intellect and delicacy of ironic touch that hasn't the slightest hint of the sensational to it.
But here—ah!—in his L'amour l'après-midi, also known as Love in the Afternoon or Chloe in the Afternoon, the last of Rohmer's Six Moral Tales, there's the famed dream sequence—a sequence given a surprisingly faithful transposition in I Think I Love My Wife, the Chris Rock film inspired by this one—a depiction of a dream that the narrator/hero Frédéric (Bernard Verley) himself calls "out of something [he] might have read when [he] was ten years old." A sci-fi erotic dream, in which Fred's got this amulet with which he can control every woman in the world. This very nearly gibes, one could say, with Mr. Manchu's rather outlandish schemes for world conquest.
And it gets even more exciting, because all the women Fred encounters/controls are played by actresses who have appeared in Rohmer's prior Moral Tales. There's Françoise Fabien and Marie-Christine Barrault from Ma nuit chez Maude...
...Haydée Politoff from La collectioneuse...
...and Aurora Cornu, Laurence de Monoghan, and lil' Beatrice Romand, from Le genou de Claire. Holy crap! Is this the Rohmer omniverse happening here, or what?
Well, it was...these Six Moral Tales were intended to interconnect in very particular ways, and this clearly signified one of them. But Rohmer never indulged in such self-reflexive cleverness (a hallmark of modernist art both low and high) again. And his one spy film, Triple Agent, was brilliant in, among other things, showing how much spy stuff you could take out of a spy film and still have it be a spy film.
But I'll keep searching for more evidence of pulp imagination. It's gotta be there, somewhere, and the Film Society of Lincoln Center retro on the director will be the place in New York to find it.
"The Sign Of Rohmer" continues at the Walter Reade Theater through Sept. 3