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Eric Rohmer, 1920-2010

Of all the Nouvelle Vague filmmakers, the work of Eric Rohmer—who died today at 89—needs the least explication. He was the most Platonic of writer-directors, the one in whose work there is the clearest demarcation between surface (tidy) and spirit (only fleetingly glimpsed). On that surface he largely remained. Physically, his parameters were circumscribed, even when his characters’ emotions ebbed and flowed (and sometimes crashed). In his preference for long takes, he had one foot in nineteenth-century French theater, with its love of single units of time—of the tension that comes from an unbroken gaze. Rohmer learned early on that if you’re going to create parables that dramatize (and challenge) philosophical tenets, it helps if the actors are extremely attractive and the audience longs to see them jump into bed with one another. The strategy paid off especially well in Pauline at the Beach, in which questions of morality were explored by young French actresses in string bikinis. (Woody Allen tried something similar in Vicky Cristina Barcelona—but as in all his other Rohmer-like parables, cynicism trumped faith.) Among Rohmer’s masterpieces and near-masterpieces, I prefer his “Tales of the Four Seasons,” especially Autumn and the deliriously romantic Summer—known in France, of course, as Le Rayon Vert. At the risk of sounding maudlin, I imagine when his own sun set there was a flash of green in the heavens.

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