Manual Eric Rohmer: Interviews (Conversations with Filmmakers Series)

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Many people felt like this over the years. Yet, Rohmer was one of the few French directors with his own section in American video stores, his name spelled out above a not inconsiderable body of work. And Rohmer does belong on a shelf in many more respects; his films should be available at all hours, like favorite books, to be taken down when one has the yen for his weird, irritating and anachronistic artistry.

The French spoken in his films was famously weird, old-fashioned, always bourgeois and a little off. He saw only three motion pictures before he reached Paris at 17 the silent Ben Hur, and two forgotten adaptations of French classics. He eventually became editor in chief of the review but always remained professorial in person.

He would receive you with the same fastidiousness he reserved for his directing, placing you in front of his desk just so, so that the light would be right and your questions better understood. It was shown well before his passing, but this is only one example of the coquette in Rohmer, the faux modeste. Many people felt that he was a better teacher or philosopher than filmmaker. Delphine The Green Ray defends her vegetarianism to a group of friends-of-a-friend.

For example, in the famous scene in The Green Ray where Delphine has to defend her vegetarianism to a group of friends-of-a-friend, the camera starts on Delphine then moves to the right as a character places a plate of pork chops onto the table. The camera moves around the table as the other characters help themselves to meat and ask Delphine facetious questions about vegetarianism, then zooms forward, framing her in a single shot that underlines her isolation from the group. It is a brilliant piece of comic timing that allows the camera and audience to sympathise with Delphine.

This approach allowed Maintigneux to capture the crowds unnoticed, her framing sometimes echoing holiday snapshots and sometimes seeming like an ethnographic observation of lifeguards moving their watch tower, children building sandcastles and people jumping in and out of the waves.

One particularly memorable shot films Delphine from the sea itself, looking back to the beach, so that the camera is pushed and jogged about by the force of the water. In the next shot the camera is at ground-level alongside Delphine as she lies on the sand. The street itself offers a comment on the narcissism and hubris of these men arguing over partitions of space: just between them is a poster for a production of King Lear.

At last the camera leaves the men and follows Reinette as she looks at the street sign, and holds the image long enough we clearly see it too. The Four Adventures of Reinette and Mirabelle, against mansplaining. While the book is controlled, the film, with all its characteristic attention to framing and construction, cannot quite contain the warmth and mess of human feeling and flesh. In Die Marquise von O Rohmer went to great lengths to maintain period accuracy, not accuracy of re-creation, but of creation.

There is less accurate data as to the reality of the 11 th century than there is of the 18th even painting, before the Renaissance discovery of perspective, was not conventionally realistic.

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How then can one find truth, and realism in representation? What Rohmer does, which is revolutionary, is turn into the subject matter itself, into the text he draws from. In effect, he uses the same techniques that he did in Die Marquise von O , but the two texts are radically different. In Perceval le Galloise, rather than re-create something unknown he creates something as mythical and seemingly un-real as the text itself.

Why does an arch-realist such as Rohmer use the profoundly non-naturalistic elements found in Perceval le Galloise? He could have gone to the remains of 11 th century castles and towns in France, had he wanted.

But he would have been filming the version of those places, and no doubt he considered that this was doubly false because it masqueraded under the banner of truth. By de-truthing fake truth, by being honestly fake, he makes a world that, while it is not fantasy, creates and sustains its own reality, a reality based in the poem that was written in the 11 th century.

It is not possible, in the 21 st century, to know what the 11 th looked or felt like.

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The formalization used in Perceval le Galloise , and the rigorous adhesion to the original text, not only acknowledges this, but brings us closer to the spirit—the essence—of that time than any other method of representation has managed. There is much that could be called fake in Perceval le Galloise.


There is the chorus that sings a commentary as well as taking on various subsidiary roles, the forest of abstract metal trees, the castles made of painted wood. Perceval le Galloise is not an easy film to watch. Unlike in Die Marquise von O, we are never allowed in to the human drama. There is no intimacy.

Its strangeness creates a distance that fascinates more than moves. And yet, Perceval le Galloise is absolutely a Rohmer film. One of the many startling things about the film is that it has no real ending.


Eric Rohmer : interviews / edited by Fiona Handyside.

None of its three separate stories, those of Perceval, Gawain and Christ, are brought to conventional conclusions. The film ends in the middle, with Perceval riding through landscape, the quest ongoing and almost unnamed. It is an abrupt and initially confusing ending, but also just. Stories and incidents exist, but endings rarely exist. While death can be seen as one definitive ending, it is only the ending for the individual involved.

Eric Rohmer • Great Director profile • Senses of Cinema

While they frequently have the spirit of fairy tales, they never end as fairy tales do, with a full stop. The ending is always open, always part of another beginning, always touched with ambiguity. Because Rohmer insists on filming real people, moving and talking, he cannot allow himself to indicate that their lives stop with the film. This open-ended-ness is seen in many Rohmer films. Who knows what will happen to Delphine and her carpenter after the end of Le Rayon vert , or what will become of Sabine and the young man in the train after that of Le Beau marriage A Good Marriage , Lonely Magali and Gerard, the man her friend Isabelle has found for her, have met, and connected.

But the final image of the film is complex. Instead there is a deep and ambiguous sadness—one Rohmer considered so important that he wrote to cinemas requesting that they do not turn the lights of the auditorium up too soon. His films end with the acknowledgement that the passage of human life is not one of neat endings. Rohmer is frequently criticized for making films about the machinations of the lives of self-obsessed people. It is certainly true that in the majority of his films the characters spend much of their time discussing themselves.

This leads to further accusations that the films are banal—or rather, that they celebrate banality. The only films that contain such drama are the three based on the books of others.

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He has no cops and robbers, no killers or pimps or thwarted lovers. The majority of people live lives without car chases. You never sense that he is mocking his characters, no matter how ridiculous their behavior. It is his refusal to fall into such cheap stratagems that give his films depth, and lift what may otherwise seem like the self obsessed traumas of the young and middle class into something more important. Morality is central to Rohmer; his first film series was, after all, the Contes moreaux.

There seems to be a certain element of moral judgment in many of the films. Rohmer was an admirer and in his writing, a champion of Bresson, whose films represent a world permeated by Catholicism, where good and evil are a clear presence. It provokes all moral and philosophical debates of the film. The frequent lengthy scenes in church, the sermons and recitations, all underline the importance of the Catholic position.

Perceval le Galloise has even stronger elements of faith—not only the religious universe of the film but, crucially, its ending, which presents an extraordinary depiction of the passion of Christ. Even his book with Claude Chabrol on Hitchcock describes a universe ordered by religious belief:. As frequently as he is accused of being banal, Rohmer is accused of being conservative. Such comments can only be based on a surface reading of the films. Morality is a central issue, but what the films reveal is not an intention to define morality, to make clear the boundary between right and wrong, but an exploration of the nature of morality itself.

The films do not make moral judgments, neither on the characters nor on the issues that face them.

Eric Rohmer, RIP

Their concern is the exploration of the dilemma, and what it reveals of the human. Just as he never makes fun of them when they are foolish, so he never damns or lauds their choices. It is this that makes his films so deeply humane. It is also what makes them adult.

The respect Rohmer shows his characters extends to his viewers, whose intelligence, perception and patience are generously presumed upon. He places himself, not above, as the author, but alongside.

The audience does any judgment that takes place, though one would hope that the films might encourage them to do otherwise. He seems a traditionalist with his simple camera angles and constant reworking of themes, yet he has consistently embraced new technologies. Along with other Nouvelle Vague directors, he was enthusiastic about the introduction of 16mm.

And so, after acknowledging elements of conservatism in his work, one is confronted with a scene in Die Marquise von O which shocks in the powerful and overt nature of its social commentary, and which is described in detail to make clear how inaccurate and misleading many of the accusations against Rohmer have been.