Peter Bradshaw/The Guardian
Eric Rohmer's death at the age of 89 is a reminder of the incredible energy, tenacity and longevity of France's great nouvelle vague generation. Rohmer had released his last film only last year, the sublimely unworldly pastoral fantasy Les amours d'Astrée et de Céladon (The Romance Of Astrea And Celadon): a gentle, reflective movie, of course, but by no means lacking in energy or wit. And, meanwhile, Jean-Luc Godard, Agnès Varda, Jacques Rivette and Claude Chabrol — at the respective ages of 79, 81, 81 and 79 — are all still with us, all nursing projects.
Rohmer came from the New Wave tradition of critic-turned-director; he was a former editor of Cahiers du cinéma, and became the distinctively romantic philosopher of the New Wave and the great master of what was sometimes called "intimist" cinema: delicate, un-showy movie-making about not especially startling people, people often in their twenties, whose lives are dramatised at a kind of walking, talking pace. He avoided dramatic close-up, and tended to avoid music, except that that is supposed to be heard by the characters in the action from radios, for example — Lars von Trier's minimalist Dogme movement was in the spirit of Rohmer's modus operandi.
What was utterly characteristic was Rohmer's feel for what the real life of a young person — albeit a certain type of middle-class, educated young person — was like: that is, not shiny and sexy or grungy or funny, in the Hollywood manner, but uncertain, tentative, vulnerable and more often than not dominated by a quotidian type of travel: bus travel, subway travel, train travel: travel to get somewhere for the summer, or to see a girlfriend or boyfriend.
The first Rohmer film I saw was Le rayon vert (The Green Ray), with my girlfriend, when we were both students, at the old Cambridge Arts Cinema in the 80s; I thought then and think now that Rohmer's films are quintessentially studenty — in the best possible sense. Young, callow-ish people do a lot of talking, in the way we all did, about what was wrong (or right) with their lives and relationships, and about the perfect place to go for the summer. In this film, a young woman is unable to think what to do for the summer. She tries various places with various people, but always finds herself heading back to Paris, drawn perhaps to a place in which possibilities have not been thinned and options narrowed. Eventually, she finds herself at the beach, about to experience the legendary 'rayon vert', or flash of green light you can see at the moment the sun sets.
Perhaps other twentysomethings, from a later era, would be more excited about finding the perfect beach in Thailand or Vietnam, but to us impecunious 1980s students, the idea of witnessing the 'rayon vert' in Biarritz was a fascinating, exotic notion, and eminently plausible. It was as fascinating as absinthe. Yet everything was filmed in such a straightforward, realist way, and for someone in his mid-sixties, Rohmer himself had a remarkable sympathy and un-patronising interest in young people.
Later, in 1992, Rohmer would make Conte d'hiver (A Winter's Tale), as part of his 'tales of four seasons' series, about a young man and woman who have a passionate holiday romance but somehow manage to mislay each other's details and lose touch. It seems almost inconceivable in our world of social networking sites and mobile phones, but at the time it was entirely plausible, and another demonstration of Rohmer's sure touch for sensing the anxieties and dreams of un-moneyed young people, looking for love and adventure — and, as ever, having to travel banally to get it. I think Richard Linklater, in his movies Before Sunrise and Before Sunset, about a missed love-connection, was trying to channel some of the spirit of Eric Rohmer.
Rohmer's "talkiest" film is probably the one that made his name: Ma nuit chez Maud (My Night with Maud) from 1969, a black and white film that looks a little rickety now. A man is forced through snow to stay the night with an attractive stranger, and finds his resolve to marry someone else severely tested by having to sleep over in her bed. But this is not just about sex, and the lack of it, or the promise of it, but about talk, about the adventure of intimacy, and all the subtle, almost infinitesimal things we reveal about ourselves in talking.
In his later years — though perhaps Rohmer's entire mature career is one long, richly distinctive, 'late phase' — the director turned to period drama, and this is the point at which pub-quizzers may raise the question of what unites Rohmer with Christopher Nolan. The answer is that both have cast the tremendous but under-used and still under-appreciated British actress Lucy Russell. Rohmer made the French-speaking lead in his French revolutionary drama L'anglaise et le duc (The Lady and the Duke) from 2001.
And finally, there is Rohmer's remarkable last film, Les amours d'Astrée et de Céladon, a Shakespearean fantasia, a midsummer noon's reverie, conceived along uncompromisingly classical lines, and a thing of quiet joy. Along with his green ray — that flash of mystical revelation available to idealistic young people unencumbered by middle-aged banality — it is my favourite Eric Rohmer. The cinema has lost a philosopher, a quiet rhetorician and a gentle ally of the young.
By Michael Phillips/Chicago Tribune
"I was determined to be inflexible and intractable," filmmaker Eric Rohmer once wrote regarding his self-labeled "six moral tales" of love, philosophy and glancing desire, "because if you persist in an idea it seems to me that in the end you do secure a following."
It worked. To the casual American art-house patron of a certain age Rohmer's most widely distributed pictures, beginning with "My Night at Maud's" (1969), "Claire's Knee" (1970) and "Chloe in the Afternoon" (1972, and remade, uneasily, with Chris Rock as "I Think I Love My Wife") crystallized an notion of piquant, verbally obsessive French cinema.
Rohmer's men, chasing illusions of women as often as women in the flesh, were variations on a specific breed of sardonic romantic. His questing, moralizing protagonists acted as vessels for the filmmaker's own observations of life, as he also wrote, where "there's no clear-cut line of tragedy or comedy."
Rohmer died in Paris Monday, a few months shy of his 90th birthday. His career encompassed the journalistic passions and cinematic creativity of many of his colleagues. He wrote for and edited the influential critical journal Cahiers du Cinema. Other fledgling critics and directors, notably Francois Truffaut (with "The 400 Blows") and Jean-Luc Godard (with "Breathless"), broke through with attention-getting masterworks years before Rohmer's more stylistically conservative seriocomedies sidled onto the international stage. Rohmer used to say he found greater favor outside of France than in it, for a while.
But the man born Jean-Marie Maurice Scherer, whose pseudonym took the first name of director Eric von Stroheim and the last of "Fu Manchu" creator Sax Rohmer, knew what he wanted. Natural light. A sense of humor, but a sidewinding one. He lived to rehearse, for months and months, before shooting. His final film, the serenely nutty ballad known as "The Romance of Astrea and Celadon," played Facets Cinematheque in Chicago a year ago this month. Until the end he believed in love, and delighted in how many different ways people could talk about it, or around it, until they came to an epiphany, however small or momentary.
"Rohmer often says that he's 18 at heart," his longtime editor Mary Stephen said of the director in his twilight years. "And he is.
The director asked that audiences look at his final film as a "measured, well-thought-out risk." One could say the same of his entire sun-kissed career.
BY ROGER EBERT / January 11, 2010
We've lost a gentle and wise humanist of the movies. Eric Rohmer 89, one of the founders of the French New Wave died Monday Jan. 11 in Paris. The group , which inaugurated modern cinema, included Jean-Pierre Melville, Francois Truffaut, Jean-Luc Godard, Claude Chabrol, Agnes Varda, Alain Resnais, Jacques Rivette and Louis Malle. Melville, Truffaut and Malle have died, but the others remain productive and creative in their 80s.
Rohmer's characters arrived at moral decisions in their lives, usually through romance, often with warm humor. Few directors have loved people more: Their quirks, weaknesses, pretensions, ideals, and above their hopes of happiness. In 27 features made between 1959 and 2007, not a single Rohmer character was a generic type. All were originals.
Rohmer followed in the spirit of his countryman Balzac, mapping his works around central themes. He made six "Moral Tales," six "Comedies and Proverbs" and his "Tales of the Four Seasons," along with 11 films outside category. His films often illustrated a proverb, but it was impossible to guess which one until he surprised you at the end.
He first made an impression in America with "My Night at Maud's" (1969) and "Claire's Knee" (1970). Those "moral tales" often involved a moment before marriage when a man's thoughts turned to other tempting choices. The choices were revealed through indirection, in films ostensibly about something else. As I wrote in a 1971 review: "If I were to say that 'Claire's Knee' is about Jerome's desire to caress the knee of Claire, you would be a million miles from the heart of this extraordinary film. And yet, in a way, 'Claire's Knee' is indeed about Jerome's feelings for Claire's knee, which is a splendid knee." That unobtainable knee, for Jerome, represents all the delights he is surrendering.
Rohmer was a taste worth acquiring. Arthur Penn gave Gene Hackman this line in his "Night Moves" (1975): "I saw a Rohmer film once. It was kind of like watching paint dry." Some moviegoers might agree with that, but not Penn, whose own "Bonnie and Clyde" has been described as the New Wave washing ashore in America.
Rohmer was born as Maurice Henri Joseph Schérer. He created his professional name by combining those of the Austrian director Erich von Stroheim and the English novelist Sax Rohmer. He was the editor of Cahiers du Cinema, the legendary French film magazine which launched a generation of young critics into filmmaking, and finally followed his proteges into full-time directing in 1963.
His films usually cost little, did not have huge grosses, and were treasured for their delightful sensibility. In 2001, the year he won a rare Golden Lion for lifetime achievement from the Venice Film Festival, I wrote: "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.
"Rohmer is the romantic philosopher of the French New Wave, the director whose characters make love with words as well as flesh. They are open to sudden flashes of passion, they become infatuated at first sight, but then they descend into doubt and analysis, talking intensely about what it all means. Because they're invariably charming, and because coincidence and serendipity play such a large role in his stories, this is more cheerful than it sounds. As he grows older Rohmer's heart grows younger, and at 81 he is more in tune with love than the prematurely cynical authors of Hollywood teen romances."
Among his best-known titles were "Chloe in the Afternoon" (1972), "A Good Marriage" (1982), "Summer" (1986), "An Autumn's Tale" (1998), "Pauline at the Beach" (1983), and "Rendezvous In Paris" (1996).
His final film was "Romance of Astrea and Celadon" (2007). Did he intend it as his last? It was a wild departure, set in 5th century Gaul and involving shepherds, shepherdesses, druids and nymphs. Yet it was a Rohmer, all right, with Astrea and Celadon destined to love but kept apart by misunderstandings, coincidences and second-guessing themselves. As always, there was a satisfactory outcome.