Slow down summer and simmering romance
Updated: Dec 11, 2022
“It is human nature to think wisely and act in an absurd fashion.” – this famous French saying captures the essence of Eric Rohmer’s Comedies and Proverbs. This series of six is a collection of proverbial tales on the concept of love. The characters drone on and on about it, in the fashion of philosophers and intellectuals who seem to like the sound of their own voice, initiating an elaborate dialogue that spans across each story, dissecting a different aspect of love and romance. Rohmer does not necessarily focus on the big events in life, setting his stories in relatively non-happening Parisian suburbs during slow French summers. His characters are recently out of relationships, or on the brink of ending them and in pursuit of new prospects. Summer to many signifies a fresh start, and as these narratives follow, the grand expectations of finding romance when not met, lead to disappointment and dejection.
In vacation blues, pangs of anxiety, long-drawn loneliness, and sudden emotional outbursts, Rohmer depicts complicated webs of feelings that develop into intricate entanglements of frustration and desperation. Emotions, when left uncurbed can reveal the worst aspects of our character, that border on loathsome and pathetic. “Who doesn’t daydream? Who doesn’t build castles in the air?” asks Rohmer, in defense of Sabine (Beatrice Romand) in A Good Marriage, a bright woman recently out of an extra-marital affair, who becomes singularly obsessed with marrying a man showing no particular interest towards her. Nagged by idle suspicions, Phillipe Marlaud’s Francois (The Aviator’s Wife) spends his entire day following his girlfriend’s ex-lover around the city, only to reach baseless conclusions. In matters of heart and heartbreak, we are naked to the world, our worst traits and weaknesses exposed. Pauline at the Beach follows a teenager surrounded by adults who are all equally terrible at love. How a naïve, malleable mind is structured by the romantic misadventures of “veterans” around her forms the premise of the story. Even reckless affairs have consequences, providing their fair share of hurt, and the only way to cope, as both Marion and Pauline find, is strict denial.
Proverbs which commonly reflect on human nature are used to poignantly deliberate on romantic tendencies and our pestering, yet all-important need for companionship. The struggle between this need and the instinct to protect one’s own individuality serves as a conflict for Louise (played by Pascale Ogier) in Full Moon in Paris. Young, stylish, doe-eyed, and lithe, she attracts the attention of many men around her, but dismisses it half-heartedly; seeking independence from her long-term relationship, she creates a separate living space for herself away from her quiet suburban home, in the bustling epicentre of the city. Rohmer has a unique way of idealising Paris - Paris is always in the background, a place of great activity and pace, as opposed to the somewhat ordinary and uneventful lives of the characters, who live in the vicinity of the city, but not out of the sphere of its influence. As is the format of any proverbial tale, each movie ends in a lesson for the protagonist, with Louise realising that at the end of the day, we tend to gravitate towards stability and thrive on constant sources of validation.
The importance of timing, the element of happenstance, and coincidence in love may not be as well-appreciated in real life, as in movies like My Girlfriend’s Boyfriend. With their eccentric fashion sense, outdated ideologies (and blatant pedophilia), these films made in the 80s certainly feel outlandish and alien, yet they manage to maintain their relevance – Just as The Green Ray’s Delphine (Marie Riviere) vacations across mountains, beaches, the city and the countryside in a bid to find herself, Rohmer takes his audience on a slow cruise of emotions, that are ever-changing yet essentially unchanged, through barriers of time.