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The Aviator's Wife  
Eric Rohmer
1981 || 104 mins

Francoise (Philippe Marlaud), a 20-year-old student who works nights as a postman, is in love with 25-year-old Anne (Marie Rivière). Early one morning he arrives at her door, only to see another man leaving her apartment. When Francois confronts her, she gets angry, refuses to tell him who it was, and makes it clear she’s not interested in him anymore. In fact, the man was Anne’s former lover Christian (Mathieu Carrière), an airline pilot, who came to see her to tell her their affair was over. Francois later spots Christian walking with another woman, and decides to follow them. His pursuit leads to the park where he meets a vivacious 15-year-old schoolgirl, Lucie (Anne-Laure Meury), with whom he strikes up an immediate friendship. She is intrigued by his motives and agrees to help him to find out who the mystery couple are.

see also articles on:
Top 10 Rohmer Movies || Eric Rohmer Profile || French New Wave History || French New Wave Film Guide

La Femme de l’aviateur was the first in Eric Rohmer’s “Comedies and Proverbs” series – a collection of six films the director made during the 1980s. Like all the films in the series, it begins with a proverb: “On ne saurait penser à rien” or “It is impossible to think about nothing”. The significance of the quote becomes apparent as we watch the obsessive Francois ignore what people tell him, believing instead his own interpretation of events. He wears the bewildered expression of a young man out of his depth, with much to learn about women and life. His awkwardness contrasts ironically with the sophisticated attitudes of the two female leads.

As for the aviator’s wife, we never actually get to meet her. We hear a lot about her, and for an afternoon a mysterious blonde woman appears be her, but in the end she never turns up, except in a photograph. In this sense the film is like a mystery story but one that only Eric Rohmer could have thought up. In the place of thrills and spills, we get talk and plenty of it, but that’s entirely fitting for a film that isn’t so much about actions, as about reactions, speculations, suspicions and false leads. When the woman’s true identity is revealed it comes almost as an afterthought, the real pleasure of the film is in the twists and turns we traverse along the way to this discovery.

As in all Eric Rohmer’s films the style is naturalistic, but the director’s approach is far from that of a straightforward realist. Here he uses environment as a way to emphasize the mood of his characters and the film itself. So the cloudy morning becomes a sunny afternoon, which in turn is interrupted by a rain shower, followed by an increasingly gloomy evening. Although sometimes criticized for having a limited visual sense, Rohmer is actually brilliant at using colour and composition as a storytelling technique. The dominant colour in La Femme de l’aviator is green, giving way to blue in the final exterior nighttime scenes. The floral wallpaper in Anne’s apartment lends a green hue to all the scenes that take place there, while the Butte Chaumont Park provides a leafy backdrop for the long, rambling conversation between Francois and Lucie. Green of course stands for jealousy, as well as growth and rebirth, two key themes of the story.

The three main actors give wonderful performances. Anne is disenchanted but defiantly untragic, while Francois, infuriating at first, becomes increasingly sympathetic. He’s bungling and naïve but endearingly sincere. Lucie the young student, is particularly appealing. Bright and spirited; the interaction between her and Francois is enchanting. He could learn a lot from her, instead, at the end of the movie, he chooses to remain on the outside looking in, preferring to remain proud and isolated, rather than taking a chance at happiness. The other star of the film is Paris itself. Rohmer said in an interview that the film had been born from a love of Paris and that he’d used street locations and the park as if they were a studio set. The city certainly provides a captivating backdrop for what remains one of Rohmer’s most playful and entertaining films.

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