Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Eric Rohmer: 1920 – 2010

"Maurice Schérer, born in either Tulle or Nancy, a former schoolteacher, a gaunt face with an odd lip. A notoriously private man who was in his late 40s before he found any sort of success, and then under a pseudonym. The obituaries say Eric Rohmer has died; that's not really true. Schérer was a real man whom very few people knew well, and yes, he really did die on Monday, aged 89. "Rohmer," who made his first short film in 1950, when Schérer was almost 30, and formally retired from filmmaking 57 years later, can best be described as the product of Schérer's intellect. An Ellery Queen, or maybe an Émile Ajar. Schérer's body is barely cold, and yet it's already necessary, in a certain respect, to defend his Rohmer. The obituaries have a tinge of faint condescension. It's almost as though some other man, who made "sophisticated" and "talky" "low-key" films "about young people" and also worked under the name Eric Rohmer, had died. That person is neither Eric Rohmer nor Maurice Schérer.

"Eric Rohmer" is what we call the only director who could film two people sitting down and talking and mean every second of it. His characters blurt out their ideas and feelings, however trivial, as if they're lifelong secrets. He understood the spoken word; so did Joseph L. Mankiewicz and Abraham Polonsky. But I prefer Rohmer to Mankiewicz and Polonsky because Rohmer understood silence just as well. The gap between sentences is the nighttime, when the subconcious comes to the foreground. In that respect, Mankiewicz was afraid of the dark, while Rohmer loved it the same way he loved air, wind, water.

If it's possible to say anything with certainity, it's that nothing is half-assed in an Eric Rohmer film. "Subtlety" denies the nature of his editing — "cutting" is more like it. His framings in every feature after The Sign of Leo—whether it's The Aviator's Wife or Triple Agent—are as precise as Straub-Huillet or Pedro Costa and not one-tenth as rigid. If the fabled "literary" quality that Rohmer's films supposedly have actually exists, it's in composition: as every word on a page matters, every element of the image matters. When Eisenstein shows his massed armies, we know it's their shape that matters more than the individual members; when Rohmer shows a young woman sitting down on the beach, we know that every grain of sand is being depicted.

"You've seen one Rohmer film, you've seen them all," says the man who's only seen one Rohmer film. The Rohmer style, supposedly unwavering in its consistency, never existed. What existed was the Rohmer scrutiny and the Rohmer intelligence, which could be applied to any approach. It's hard to think of two films more different in terms of technique than Four Adventures of Reinette and Mirabelle and The Lady and the Duke, and yet they are clearly the work of the same close attention. Rohmer was moral, not moralistic. He was serious enough about living to see the irony in life. The moralistic route is an easy way out; few things require less time than judgement, and few more work than presenting the evidence. The moral value of Rohmer lies in the fact that every aspect of a film can be taken seriously; even if a director does something on a whim, they must have total faith in it." --Ignatiy Vishnevetsky

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One of my favorite filmmakers. For a collection of links and information, go HERE.

Anyone unfamiliar with Rohmer's work can find many of his films on Netflix. (I recommend starting with the early films that make up his Moral Tales -- La Collectionneuse, Claire's Knee, My Night at Maud's, etc. -- but it doesn't really matter where you start.) Many of his other films are available from the UK via an incredibly well priced (20$ for 8 films!) region free box set.

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"A Rohmer film is a flavor that, once tasted, cannot be mistaken. Like the Japanese master Ozu, with whom he is sometimes compared, he is said to make the same film every time. Yet, also like Ozu, his films seem individual and fresh and never seem to repeat themselves; both directors focus on people rather than plots, and know that every person is a startling original while most plots are more or less the same." (Ebert)

"Rohmer’s is a philosophical cinema, then, but – crucially – it was also rooted in the rhythms and rhymes of daily life: he wasn’t interested in big dramas, but devoted great attention to getting things like time, place, light and sound just right. Often, substantial sections of his films feel like documentary (precisely because, in essence, they are), while ‘The Green Ray’ – another masterpiece – was almost totally improvised; in this respect (among others), he not only stayed true to his nouvelle vague beginnings but anticipated the likes of Kiarostami, Pedro Costa, Jia Zhangke et al. By focusing on evocative specifics, he made his erudite, eloquent, allusive films feel wholly authentic as intimist studies in human behaviour, desire, need and motivation. Meanwhile, the endless, generous, non-judgemental fascination with individuals in all their faintly absurd, self-deluding vanity and undiminished dignity speaks of his profoundly humane but never sentimental compassion." (Geoff Andrew, Time Out)

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