Yesterday, by chance, I learned that Eric Rohmer, one of my favorite film directors of all time had passed away. He died earlier this year. I looked through the films of his that I had, and just by looking at the covers I could remember so many details. I had seen the films so many times. I could remember small, seemingly unimportant things. What the actors where wearing, what a particular subway station looked like, how the opening titles were placed on the screen. Details that mentioned in a conversation or blogged about here would sound trivial and silly, but in Rohmer’s films they were magic! Looking through Youtube for some of my favorite scenes of his I came across this little gem called “Nadja in Paris”.
Rohmer’s films concentrate on intelligent, articulate protagonists who frequently fail to own up to their desires. The contrast between what they say and what they do fuels much of the drama in his films.
Rohmer saw the full-face closeup as a device which does not reflect how we see each other and avoided its use. He avoids extradiegetic music (not coming from onscreen sound sources), seeing it as a violation of the fourth wall. He has on occasion departed from this rule, inserting soundtrack music in places in The Green Ray (1986) (released as Summer in the United States). Rohmer also tends to spend considerable time in his films showing his characters going from place to place, walking, driving, bicycling or commuting on a train, engaging the viewer in the idea that part of the day of each individual involves quotidian travel. This was most evident in Le Beau mariage (1982), which had the female protagonist constantly traveling, particularly between Paris and Le Mans.
Rohmer typically populates his movies with people in their twenties and the settings are often on beautiful beaches and resorts, notably in La Collectionneuse (1967),Pauline at the Beach (1983), The Green Ray (1986) and A Summer’s Tale (1996). These films are immersed in an environment of bright sunlight, blue skies, green grass, sandy beaches, and clear waters.
The director’s characters engage in long conversations—mostly talking about man-woman relationships but also on mundane issues like trying to find a vacation spot. There are also occasional digressions by the characters on literature and philosophy as most of Rohmer’s characters are middle class and university educated.
A Summer’s Tale (1996) has most of the elements of a typical Rohmer film: no soundtrack music, no closeups, a seaside resort, long conversations between beautiful young people (who are middle class and educated) and discussions involving the characters’ interests from songwriting to ethnology.
He described his work as follows:
“You can say that my work is closer to the novel – to a certain classic style of novel which the cinema is now taking over – than to other forms of entertainment, like the theatre.”
Rohmer said he wanted to look at “thoughts rather than actions”, dealing “less with what people do than what is going on in their minds while they are doing it.”
His style was famously criticised by Gene Hackman’s character in the 1975 film Night Moves who describes viewing Rohmer’s films as “kind of like watching paint dry”.