Sad To See You Leaving 2010: Eric Rohmer

by George_East on December 28, 2010

 

Between 1957 and 1960 a bunch of young French directors blew apart the world of European and later world film making. Instead of looking to the old European masters of art cinema they venerated directors working in the Hollywood studio system, directors who had before largely been seen as studio journeyman by more serious critics.

What made this New Wave of directors especially interesting is that many of them were themselves critics with the French film magazine, Cahiers du cinema who used their wide knowledge of American genre pictures to inform and influence their own filmmaking. Their reference points among many others were John Ford, Nicholas Ray, Howard Hawks, Douglas Sirk, Alfred Hitchcock. Westerns, gangster pics, melodrama and musicals rather than the staid and worthy French films if the 1940s and 1950s, what Francois Truffaut called the ‘cinema de papa’.

Eric Rohmer was a key new wave director. His films are instantly recognisable. They are full of articulate intelligent characters who communicate but fail to communicate.  The films are very talky, perhaps as talky as any Howard Hawks screwball comedy.  They are usually populated by middle class characters in their 20s struggling to connect romatically or sexually (though with films such as Percival le Gallois and The Lady and the Duke there were occasional forays into historical or literary settings).

He often grouped his films into connected series. The Six Moral Tales of the 1960s was followed by Comedies and Proverbs in the 1980s and Tales of the Four Seasons in the 1980s and 1990s.

I first encountered him when I saw A Tale of Springtime in 1990 but got to know his work much more in 2001 when the National Film Theatre had a full retrospective of his work. His films often have intellectual digressions which reveal a lot about the characters in them. In the same way that I discovered the works of restoration dramatist John Webster through Echo and The Bunnymen’s song , The White Devil, it was Rohmer’s 1969 masterpiece, My Night With Maud that introduced me to Pascal’s Wager and the argument that belief in God is rational because if salvation depends on such belief, then it is the rational position to take. If you bet against and you are wrong, you are damned; if you bet in favour and you lose you are no worse off than you would be anyway. Rohmer’s film delight in such intellectual puzzles.

If you don’t know his films, check them out. Suggested films to start with are: My Night With Maud, Claire’s Knee, The Green Ray, My Girlfriend’s Boyfriend and A Winter’s Tale.

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