Éric Rohmer: Cinematic Realism, Beaches, Desire and Young Love


Eric Rohmer, who was one of the original founders of the famous French film magazine Cahiers du Cinéma, is one of the most important figures that has been associated with the French New Wave that transformed cinema in the 1950s and 1960s.


His unique cinematic approach values aesthetics and sexiness — and explores the complexities of youth, desire and morality. His films are characterized by a sexy visual style, delicately stated emotional undercurrents, misdirected erotic attachments, articulate dialogue and a strong sense of place [1].


Rohmer considers the beach as an important site for considering the forms and meanings spatiality in cinema [2]. The beach in Rohmer's films are a place for urban masses, yet they are also a sight of isolation and dislocation. Rohmer uses ethnographic methods on the beach to demonstrate that the beach has a critical nexus of meanings in modern culture.


These films consist of composed long-takes shot by camera that are at, or slightly below, the eye-level of a standing person who is not herself or himself involved in the action. From this perspective, the camera is watching and by extension, so is the films audience.


This enables the viewer to be immersed in the games of seduction that Rohmer employs. Seduction is a complex concept which refer to sometimes contradictory meanings often used to condemn seductive practices themselves — and Rohmer's films offer the occasion to better understand what can be considered as fundamental human social behavior [3].


The seduction in Rohmer's films is eloquently layered through ambiguity. This ambiguity creates doubt, placing the seduced person in an unstable third place. Fundamentally, Rohmer's films deal with the principle stereotypes of love and seduction.


Rohmer's cinema is often associated with transparency, but his films subvert it by ambiguity, by imposing the presence of a mediator, of a third party which disturbs the ideal-couple dynamic inherent in stereotypes of romantic love, in so doing, the film's spectator is often immersed and active in the mechanics and aesthetics of seduction.


A significant number of Rohmer's films, such as La Collectioneuse, Le Genou de Claire, Pauline a la Plage have been set in the summer. One reason Rohmer may be attracted to summer as a setting is the immense leisure of the season [4].


Rohmer is certainty an expert at recording the languor and leisure of summer — as his camera often lovingly dwells on the eccentricities of beach and resort life. He seems to have a special feel for the wide open spaces, sandy floors, and bleached walls of summer homes.


Although Rohmer is immensely good at conveying the beauty of summer — he is also very good at describing its banality. He finds something frightening in the leisure of summer, a tendency toward stagnation and aimlessness. Summer tends to find his typically very reflective characters with too much time on their hands and too many thoughts in their heads.


Seasons play a quintessential in his films — the seasons are prominent in the early groupings: the snowy heights above Clermont Ferrand (Ma Nuit chez Muad), sunny inlets and dendelion fields near Saint Tropez (La Collectionnuese), artificial lakes and leafy walks around on the outskirts of Paris (L'Ami de mon amie), wind-surfing and swimming on the Atlantic coast (Pauline a la plague, Le Rayon vert), chestnut trees, cherries at the market (La Boulangere de Monceau), tennis, roses in flower and more cherries beside Lake Annecy (Le Genou de Claire) [5]. Every Rohmer film is conscious of the seasons and seeks to immerse the audience aesthetically in the overall vibe of the given season.


Rohmer can be described as both a realist and a moralist. His unique aesthetic template amplifies the beauty of the seasons. He has a sharp eye for strong and morally complex characters, and this makes him the most overlooked director in the French New Wave movement. Lastly, he is a master artist that beautifully paints the complexities of life, love, youth, sex, seduction and desire.


Sources

[1] Tester K. (2008) Introduction. In: Eric Rohmer. Palgrave Macmillan, London


[2] Handyside, Fiona. "Rohmer à la plage: The role of the beach in three films by Eric Rohmer. "Studies in French Cinema 9, no. 2 (2009): 147-160.


[3] Tortajada, Maria. "Eric Rohmer and the mechanics of seduction."Studies in French Cinema 4, no. 3 (2004).


[4] Fawell, John. "Eric Rohmer's Oppressive Summers."French Review (1993): 777-787.


[5] Mann, Chris. "The seasons in the films of Eric Rohmer."Australian Journal of French Studies 36, no. 1 (1999): 101-109.