January 11, 2010


Eric Rohmer, French 'New Wave' film director who reshaped cinema in 1960s, dies at 89 (Reuters, January 11th 2010)

Regarded by many as a conservative, Rohmer did not follow fashion. "Rohmer's films never contain any obvious attention-getting devices such as violence, unusual camera angles or even musical scores," wrote biographer Terry Ballard.

"(He makes) films that deal with foibles and relationships of realistic if self-absorbed people." [...]

Rohmer made his first feature film, "Le Signe du Lion" ("The Sign of Leo"), in 1959. He did not become famous for a further 10 years, but worked tirelessly during this period, launching numerous projects, including his film series, "Six Moral Tales" showing men facing moral crises as they fall into temptation.

"What I call a 'conte moral' is not a tale with a moral, but a story which deals less with what people do than with what is going on in their minds while they are doing it," Rohmer wrote in 1971.

"You can say that my work is closer to the novel -- to a certain classic style of novel which the cinema is now taking over -- than to other forms of entertainment, like the theater."

In the 1980s, Rohmer began his second series of films under the banner "Comedies and Proverbs" which were supposed to be lighter in tone to the earlier "literary" movies.

A man with a reputation for zealously guarding his privacy, Rohmer started his third series of films at the age of 70, naming them after the four seasons and beginning with "Conte de Printemps" ("A Tale of Springtime").

In 1999, his "Conte d'Automne" ("Autumn Tale") won him strong critical success at the age of 79.

We can't recommend The Lady and the Duke strongly enough. The best French Revolution picture this side of A Tale of Two Cities and The Scarlet Pimpernel.

-OBIT: French filmmaker Eric Rohmer dies (AP, 12 January 2010)
-OBIT: Arthouse French film-maker Eric Rohmer dies (BBC, 1/12/10)
-OBIT: Eric Rohmer, New Wave Filmmaker, Dies at 89 (DAVE KEHR, January 11, 2010, NY Times)

Aesthetically, Mr. Rohmer was perhaps the most conservative member of the group of aggressive young critics who purveyed their writings for publications like Arts and Les Cahiers du Cinéma into careers as filmmakers beginning in the late 1950s. A former novelist and teacher of French and German literature, Mr. Rohmer emphasized the spoken and written word in his films at a time when tastes — thanks in no small part to his own pioneering writing on Alfred Hitchcock and Howard Hawks — had begun to shift from literary adaptations to genre films grounded in strong visual styles.

His most famous film in America remains “My Night at Maud’s,” a 1969 black-and-white feature set in the grim industrial city of Clermont-Ferrand. It tells the story of a shy, young engineer (Jean-Louis Trintignant) who passes a snow-bound evening in the home of an attractive, free-thinking divorcée (Françoise Fabian).

The conversation, filmed by Mr. Rohmer in a series of carefully but unobtrusively composed long takes, covers philosophy, religion and morality, and while the flow of words at times takes on a distinctly seductive subtext, the encounter ends without a physical consummation. But a bond is formed between the two characters that movingly re-emerges five years later, when they meet again in the brief postscript that closes the film.

“My Night at Maud’s” was the third title in his “Six Moral Tales,” a series of films that Mr. Rohmer began in 1963, though for economic reasons it was the fourth to be filmed. In each of the six films, a man who is married or engaged finds himself tempted to stray but is ultimately able to resist. His films are as much about what does not happen between his characters as what does, a tendency that enchanted critics as often as it drove audience members to distraction.

-OBIT: Eric Rohmer, a ‘New Wave’ Pioneer of French Cinema, Dies at 89 (Felix Kessler, 1/11/10, Bloomberg)
Born Jean-Marie Maurice Scherer on April 4, 1920, in Nancy, France, he was a teacher and journalist who wrote a novel under the alias Gilbert Cordier before taking Eric Rohmer as his pseudonym, a melding of name of actor and director Eric von Stroheim and Sax Rohmer, author of the Fu Manchu crime series.

Along with Jean-Luc Godard and Francois Truffaut, Rohmer wrote for the avant-garde Cahiers du Cinema and was editor of the film magazine for seven years. He wrote the script for Godard’s first French film, “All the Boys Are Named Patrick.” (It contains a shot of a man reading a French movie magazine with the headline, “French Cinema is Dying Under the Weight of False Legends.”)

Asked about their lives then, Rohmer said the would-be filmmakers responded by saying, “We don’t live.” As he put it later, “Life was the screen, life was the cinema.”

Rohmer was still struggling to get his films made when Truffaut’s “The 400 Blows” (1959) and Godard’s “Breathless” in 1960 ushered in the New Wave to the acclaim of French enthusiasts. Not until “The Collector” (1967) and “My Night at Maud’s” (1969), part of his “Six Moral Tales” series, did Rohmer achieve any success.

Truffaut said colleagues had known for 20 years that their older comrade “was our master.” Truffaut stayed a kindred spirit though Rohmer, a conservative Catholic, had a falling out with the radical Godard, who urged filmmakers to join him in making “revolutionary” movies.

-OBIT: Eric Rohmer: philosopher, rhetorician, and an ally of the young: The French director's movies were quintessentially studenty - in the best possible sense
(Peter Bradshaw, 1/11/10, The Guardian)
-OBIT: Eric Rohmer, 1920-2010 (Michael Phillips, 1/11/10, 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."

Posted by Orrin Judd at January 11, 2010 4:16 PM
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