Few directors in the history of cinema have so closely and revealingly observed the inner psychological of their characters as Eric Rohmer. Indeed he once described himself as being “less interested in what people do, than with what is going on in their minds while they are doing it.” As a screenwriter and filmmaker he was remarkably consistent in style and theme, remaining faithful to the theoretical approach to cinema he had once espoused as a critic in the 1940s and 50s. This meant a strict fidelity to the reality of time and place, use of natural light, a preference for economical camerawork, and the elimination of extra-diegetic music (not coming from an identifiable source on screen). Yet despite these restrictions, Rohmer managed to keep a youthful freshness and spontaneity to his work throughout a long and productive career.
Rohmer’s films, often presented as parts of a multi-episodic series – Contes moraux(Six Moral Tales, 1963-72), Comedies et Proverbes (Comedies and Proverbs, 1981-87), Contes des quatre saisons (Tales of the Four Seasons, 1990-98) – explore the awkward romantic entanglements, emotional upsets, and moral dilemmas that ensue when characters are caught between two or more objects of desire. In the Rohmerian universe conversation is the prime motor of action; his characters constantly analyse their feelings in witty, erudite language, often revealing flaws in their carefully worked out logic in the process. Yet Rohmer always shows warmth towards his characters, refusing to mock their aspirations, instead allowing them to learn from hard-won experience. If you have not seen a Rohmer film and wonder where to start, the answer is anywhere you like. It isn’t necessary to watch them in order and all his work is recommended. The list below contains our particular favourites.
Les Nuits de la pleine lune
(Full Moon in Paris, 1984)
Louise lives in the Paris suburbs with her boyfriend Rémi. Believing they will strengthen their relationship by spending more time apart, Louise rents an apartment in the centre of the city, but things do not go quite as planned. Pascale Ogier won the Best Actress award at Venice for her performance, only to die shortly afterwards at the tragically young age of 25.
Le Femme de l’aviateur
(The Aviator's Wife, 1981)
A bittersweet comedy of errors about a young man in love with an older woman, who follows a pilot he believes is her lover through Paris, encountering along the way a charming teenage girl who becomes his accomplice. One of Rohmer’s most playful and engaging films with a memorably poignant ending. →read the full synopsis and review
Perceval la Gallois
Based on a 12th century poem about the exploits of a young knight who undergoes an education in the ways of chivalry, courtship and faith, this beautifully stylised film is unlike anything else Eric Rohmer ever made. Foregoing carefully crafted realism for a deliberately theatrical style, Rohmer brilliantly evokes the art and sensibility of the medieval era.
(Autumn Tale, 1998)
The concluding part of ‘The Tales of the Four Seasons’ is a light-hearted romantic comedy set in the vineyards of the Rhone Valley. When Isabelle attempts to play matchmaker for her best friend Magali, she finds things don’t go quite according to plan. Sparkling dialogue, rich characters and a colourful setting make for a satisfying late vintage work from Rohmer.
Le Genou de Claire
(Claire's Knee, 1970)
The fifth in the ‘Moral Tales’ series is a visually stunning, wryly humorous look at an older man’s obsession with a much younger woman. Jean-Claude Brialy stars as Jerome, recently engaged and enjoying a last holiday alone who develops a flirtatious friendship with his sixteen-year-old neighbour Laura, until the arrival of her step-sister Claire leaves him completely enraptured.
Pauline a la Plage
(Pauline at the Beach, 1983)
A summer vacation on the Normandy Coast becomes an eye-opening lesson in the pleasures and pitfalls of romance for 15-year-old Pauline, as she and her beautiful cousin Marion are courted by three very different men. The third in Rohmer’s ‘Comedies and Proverbs’ series is a wise and witty reflection on love and sexual desire.
(A Tale of Winter, 1992)
Inspired by Shakespeare’s play of the same name, the second in Rohmer’s ‘Tales of the Four Seasons’ follows hairdresser Félice, whose passionate holiday romance with Charles ends abruptly due to a mix up over her address. Trusting in faith over logic, she remains convinced that Charles will one day return. An insightful and emotionally resonant story with one of cinema’s greatest feel good endings.
(Love in the Afternoon/Chloe in the Afternoon, 1972)
The last of the ‘Six Moral Tales’ again focuses on a man vacillating between the security of marriage and the potential of an illicit affair. This time the setting is Paris where Frédéric, a successful lawyer happily married to Hélène, finds his attention distracted by the attractive women he encounters each day. When Chloe, an old friend, turns up at his office looking for work, he finds himself drawn into a relationship that threatens to
turn his life upside down.
Ma nuit chez Maud
(My Night With Maud, 1969)
If he had never made another film Eric Rohmer would have secured a place in cinema history with this brilliantly lucid, clever and compassionate meditation on chance, probability, fate, sex and religion. Jean-Louis Trintignant plays the Catholic engineer with a penchant for Pascal, who falls instantly in love with a woman he’s never met and determines to marry her, but finds his resolution tested when he meets the sophisticated, alluring Maude.
Le Rayon Verte
(The Green Ray/Summer, 1986)
A spellbinding study of loneliness and the mysterious influence of fate on our lives. Rohmer’s masterpiece stars Marie Rivière in a captivating performance as the highly sensitive Delphine, a Parisien secretary looking for a meaningful connection in a callous and indifferent world. Winner of the Golden Lion at the 1986 Venice Film Festival.