Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Rohmer: The Bakery Girl of Monceau

A number of our friends are mourning the passing of director Eric Rohmer. Some people hold his work in reverence, others dismiss it as being too talky and lacking in le department du visuals. For a long time, I've been in the latter camp; Rohmer is one of those filmmakers I just didn't "get".

The only exception was his film Perceval, which I adore; it's a wondrous work of stunning, breathtaking artifice-- a far cry from the naturalistic mileau that's often associated with his work. Maybe my problem was that it was my first exposure; if you go into Claire's Knee expecting something like Perceval, you're going to be really disappointed. At least I was.

But to clarify, while I didn't "click" with Rohmer, I didn't out-and-out dismiss him, either; it was more of a "I don't see what you see, Person X, but I'll watch his films again someday and hope that I will". And, moved by the grief of others and intrigued by the articulate appreciations they have offered in the late director's defense, I've decided that today is that someday when I give Rohmer and his work another go, beginning with the first of his Six Moral Tales, The Bakery Girl of Monceau.

Mary and I had seen this film before a few years back-- shortly after the Criterion release. We were not impressed: we hated the male lead, finding him smug and a bit thuggish in his dealings with the titular bakery girl. But as such luminaries as Gregarious Glenn Kenny and Cataclysmic C. Mason Wells have pointed out in various corners of the internet, acting as if Rohmer is unaware of his characters' dipshittiness, or that he buys into it or endorses it, is missing the point.

This second time, we got a lot more traction out of the film's final ironies-- his assertion that he acted morally contrasting sharply with the way he bullies and practically strangles the bakery girl into agreeing on a date, or the way he won over Sylvie. We also found it pretty funny, especially the progression of pastry purchases. (This may have been helped by Barbet Schroeder's slight resemblance to Jeff Daniels.) The first time through, we didn't find it funny and thought it dragged; this time, it moved quickly, smoothly, sprightly: entertaining and thought-provoking.

As we tackle each new Rohmer film, I'll take a moment, as above, to construct two or three quick paragraphs and post them-- longer than a tweet, shorter than an essay. My hope is that the entries, taken together, will form this minister's favourite kind of narrative: one of conversion.


Andrew Grant said...

Tom --

Your response to Rohmer is extremely similar to my own.

In fact, it frustrates me terribly that I just don't, or rather can't, get him.

I've had some enlightening conversations with the very people you mention in this piece -- Glenn, Chris, as well as others -- and perhaps like you I should revisit the films.

I exchanged emails today with a friend about Rohmer and it came back to a point that others have raised -- his characters are often fools. Yet though I viewed them as such, I never got the impression Rohmer felt that way about them.

There's something about all the philosophizing on issues such as sex, love, fidelity, etc. that just leaves me cold. I mean -- Eustache pulled if off wonderfully, but there's something so clinical about his interactions.

One day....

Tom Russell said...


I know-- I think in fact the first comment I left over at your site was about how clinical/cold I found Rohmer. And, again, having seen just one film here, I'm not exactly sold-- but my hopes are high.