At a certain level I think this may be one of my favourite of Rohmer’s Six Moral Tales. Like a lot of them, it focuses on a male protagonist wrestling with his feelings towards other women, that exquisitely pitched level of emotional detachment from his own life allowing these fantasies of being another man doing the things that the other men do, intersecting with his own moral compass. Sometimes the men in Rohmer’s films just seem awful, sometimes they are vacuous, and then there’s Frédéric (Bernard Verley) here. He’s a natural enough actor, and not unattractive, but he has a very familiar quality, a rather pathetic demeanour, for while he loves his wife he fantasises about other women, and when Chloé (Zouzou) breezes into his office to pick up a friendship abandoned after university, he naturally starts to drift towards this idea of himself as a ladies’ man which the rest of his body seems to utterly resist. It creates a constant frisson of awkwardness that makes his interactions with Chloé hard to watch as a result, because he is so visibly struggling with himself; it’s what the film’s about but the very accuracy with which it nails Frédéric makes me uncomfortable. All of Rohmer’s films have this kind of balance to them, and as an oeuvre I think he has achieved something rather singular, even if at an individual level they just seem like so many stories about rather pathetic men.
- The final film above has another rather early short film on the set as a supplement, Véronique et son cancre (Véronique and Her Dunce, 1958). Nicole Berger, who played another Véronique in an early Godard short film the next year (and who sadly died less than 10 years later), here plays a tutor to an annoying kid who wants nothing more than for his tutoring to be over so he can go play. Obviously what this short is capturing is a fairly common feeling amongst all of us during our education, and Véronique is hardly particularly invested in it either, so this becomes a tiny little microcosm of a battle of the wills between the two. The kid isn’t a dunce, but he is also isn’t really invested in things either.
- There’s also an afterword by filmmaker Neil LaBute touching on all the moral tales, and the inspiration he takes from them in his own work. I think it’s a solid summation of the value of Rohmer’s films as a set, and some of the themes which he develops within the six films.
FILM REVIEW: Criterion Collection
Director/Writer Éric Rohmer; Cinematographer Néstor Almendros; Starring Bernard Verley, Zouzou, Françoise Verley; Length 97 minutes.
Seen at home (Blu-ray), London, Tuesday 18 August 2020.