Eric Rohmer returned to filmmaking (after a period editing Cahiers du cinéma followed by the relative disappointment of his delayed feature debut) with this short film, the first in a six-part cycle he called the ‘Contes moraux’ (‘Six Moral Tales’). If the story seems somewhat slight (a man pines for an elegant woman, while flirting with a shopgirl), that doesn’t make its execution in any way simplistic. There’s some of that familiar nouvelle vague charm to the location shooting, which all takes place in one neighbourhood, on its grand boulevards, as well as its smaller byways and street market, and there’s charm too in the simplicity of the storyline. Indeed, the narrative pattern of a man in love with two women would be repeated in the later moral tales, but the differences in the women here is telling — Sylvie is a tall woman he passes regularly in the street, who holds herself with a slight hauteur, while Jacqueline (Claudine Soubrier) is a young shop assistant in a bakery who works every day. Our protagonist (played by the producer Barbet Schroeder) thinks he has a shot at Sylvie but he stops seeing her around for a while and, in her absence, makes a romantic move for Jacqueline. It’s significant too that our male protagonist isn’t named, and that the title of this (and most other films in the cycle) is after one of the women. In a sense, the man is a stand-in for the filmmaker and an audience surrogate, but if so, it’s a deeply critical portrait. He may have some success in love, but he’s shallow and frankly a bit creepily stalky too, and his voiceover makes it clear that his motives are pretty flawed. Rohmer’s sympathy is with the boulangère.
(Written on 7 January 2015.)
- The short film Présentation ou Charlotte et son steak (Presentation, or Charlotte and Her Steak, 1960) is a supplement to The Bakery Girl of Monceau. This is the earliest short film by Rohmer, starring Jean-Luc Godard and filmed apparently in 1951 although not finished until the end of that decade. Like a lot of the early New Wave films, it’s a slight premise, just two people hanging out and talking. She’s waiting for a train to leave, he’s killing time, chatting her up, hoping for something. Slight, but certainly not lacking in interest.
FILM REVIEW: Criterion Collection
Director/Writer Éric Rohmer; Cinematographers Bruno Barbey and Jean-Michel Meurice; Starring Barbet Schroeder, Claudine Soubrier; Length 23 minutes.
Seen at BFI Southbank (NFT3), London, Tuesday 6 January 2015.