To watch an Eric Rohmer film is to watch life unfold on the screen. I’m not sure if Rohmer, who died earlier today at the age of 89, would be happy to have his oeuvre described as such, but that’s exactly what it felt like to me while watching, say, Autumn Tale (1998), Boyfriends and Girlfriends (1987), or My Night at Maud’s (1969).
Not much seemed to be happening on-screen: people talked, kissed, fought, made up, talked some more, laughed, drank, had sex, went out, talked some more. The strange thing is, this peeping tom didn’t want most of those films to end. Just like I don’t want life to end.
Now, I’ve never been a big fan of the French New Wave – much to the contrary. I’d rather watch something like Avatar or even The Twilight Saga: New Moon than most of the films Jean-Luc Godard or François Truffaut made in the 1960s. Rohmer, though one of the founders of the New Wave, was different; in most of his work there was none of the artifice that, as far as I’m concerned, makes a number of the New Wave films all but unwatchable.
In fact, one frame in, say, Autumn Tale has more truth and genuine feeling than you’ll likely find in all ten best picture Oscar nominees put together. This “natural” quality isn’t something I can describe in words. Just like I can’t describe love or hate or fear or desire in words. It’s a feeling; something that’s as much inside me as it is on screen. Perhaps it’s all inside me, but it’s there; it’s real. That’s more than I can say about the vast majority of Hollywood movies.
Born in 1920, Rohmer began directing in the early ’50s. Among his most renowned efforts are Berlin Film Festival Silver Bear winner La collectionneuse (1967); My Night at Maud’s (1969), an international sleeper hit that earned an Academy Award nomination for best original screenplay; and the scandalous The Marquise of O (1976).
Also, Claire’s Knee (1970), Chloe in the Afternoon (1972), Pauline at the Beach (right, 1983), Full Moon in Paris (1984), A Tale of Winter (1992), A Summer’s Tale (1996), The Lady and the Duke (2001), and his last film, Romance of Astree and Celadon (2007), which received mixed reviews.
Though Rohmer often worked with little-known actors and non-professionals, he also used some famous (or famous-to-be) names, including Jean-Louis Trintignant, Françoise Fabian, Marie-Christine Barrault, Tchéky Karyo, Pascale Ogier, and Bruno Ganz.
When I learned of Rohmer’s passing about half an hour ago, the first thought that came to mind was: Why in hell do new filmmakers want to become the next Quentin Tarantino or the next James Cameron, but not the next Eric Rohmer? Just a rhetorical question.
The second question that came to mind – not a rhetorical question – was: Rohmer was a marvelous portraitist of heterosexual relationships. Where oh where is his gay equivalent?