The modest movie artist whose light never dimmed
Published 16/01/2010 | 05:00
Eric Rohmer, who died this week aged 89, became the most durable film-maker of the French New Wave. Although he was overshadowed at first by more apparently innovative figures -- Godard, Truffaut and Chabrol -- he outlasted them, and in his 70s was still making movies the public wanted to see. By that time, Truffaut had died, while Godard and Chabrol had lost their edge.
Rohmer differed from his new wave colleagues in putting the emphasis more on words than images, though he was no slouch in the pictorial department. His characters yakked more than any others in cinema, constantly analysing their feelings and moral predicaments.
All but a few of his works formed part of interconnected clusters of films, linked by a common theme or approach. Youthful and exuberant though his films were, and fixated on love and personal affinities, none was ever about sex. That whole dimension of life was missing. Rohmer's characters fell in love only with each other's minds.
Eric Rohmer was not his real name. He was born Jean-Marie Maurice Scherer on April 4, 1920, at Tulle.
He seldom had his picture taken and once attended the New York premiere of one of his films sporting a pantomime moustache.
Even his mother, it was said, died unaware that her son and Eric Rohmer were one and the same.
Specialising increasingly in film criticism, he joined Jacques Rivette and Jean-Luc Godard in writing for the influential Cahiers du Cinema, where they helped formulate a policy known as the politique des auteurs.
This was the then radically new theory that not only art films but Hollywood ones, too, could be analysed in terms of the personal style of their directors.
In 1957, with Claude Chabrol, he published a pioneering study of Alfred Hitchcock, relating his work to the then little-known fact of Hitchcock's Catholic upbringing. His breakthrough came in 1969 with My Night with Maud. It starred Jean-Louis Trintignant as a very Catholic engineer who must spend the night with a Marxist acquaintance and Maud, a recent divorcee. Through the night, the conversation ranges over predestination, atheism and the Pensees of Pascal.
Claire's Knee (1970) was the fifth of his 'Six Moral Tales' series. Jean-Claude Brialy is virtuous, with one exception. He'll not be satisfied until he has touched the nubile Claire's knee.
How he devises a situation in which he can legitimately do so turns this light comedy into a mock-heroic epic.
In 1980, with The Aviator's Wife, he started a new series, called 'Comedies and Proverbs'.
The best of them were Full Moon in Paris (1984), with Bulle Ogier's daughter Pascale in the last role before she committed suicide, and The Green Ray (1986), in which the last flash of light before sunset reveals the truth about human relations.
In 1989 he began yet another series, based on the four seasons, beginning with A Tale of Springtime, in which a daughter fixes up her father with a lady friend.
A Tale of Winter (1992) turned on mistaken addresses, with nods to Shakespeare, followed in 1996 by a beach comedy in which a young man hopelessly complicates his love life by triple-dating (A Tale of Summer) and finally by A Tale of Autumn (1998), which was all about viniculture.
Collectively the films amounted to a celebration of life the whole year round. Rohmer remained active in his last years, choosing to focus on period drama with The Lady and the Duke and Triple Agent. His last film, The Romance of Astrea and Celadon, came out in 2007. Typically the romance was treated in a reflective, almost chaste manner. Eric Rohmer married, in 1957, Therese Barbet, with whom he had two sons.