27 May 2009
L'AMOUR L'APRES-MIDI / LOVE IN THE AFTERNOON (Dir. Eric Rohmer, 1972, France)
The sixth and final part of Rohmer's moral tales, 'Love in the Afternoon' sees Frederic (Bernard Verley), a married man and lawyer wandering the streets of Paris in the afternoon, indulging his own particular fantasies with various beautiful women. Externalising his confusing emotion state through a very cerebral voice over, we come to know Frederic as someone who is facing a real crisis in his life. Having married Helene (Francoise Verley), a waif like English Professor, and learning to cope with the reality of married life and children in which the idea of a relationship has already been exhausted, Frederic is forced to repress his desire to seek out a new relationship. However, Frederic's elevated social position in French society means that he is subjected to a kind of repression that is linked to his perceptions about the need to adopt a morally conservative attitude. Frederic's bourgeoisie status is an element of the urban Parisian male that Rohmer challenges with the emancipated liberalism of Chloe (Zouzou) who behaves and dresses as if she has just stepped out of a film directed by Godard. Chloe clearly seems to represent the affects of a sexually permissive society in the 60s and her staunchly independent character serves to remind us of how the liberalism of the 60s in France in essence failed to filter down and change the strict conservatism of male identity and relationships. Chloe's unexpected intrusion into Frederic's boring life of banal routine reinvigorates his attitude to married life and makes him question his relationship with Helene.
Rohmer depicts relationships in his films quite like no other film maker as the moral dilemmas in which many of the characters find themselves are both convincingly scripted and deliberately understated through what appears at first to be an invisible directorial style. Infidelity continues to be an aspect of relationships that is explored in many films released each year by Hollywood and specialised cinema yet I can only think of a handful of films that have been able to do explore the issue with a truthfulness like Rohmer. Stanley Kubrick's last film, 'Eyes Wide Shut (1999)', and perhaps his most widely misunderstood, also deals with adulterous anxieties and repressed sexual fantasies of a wealthy, urban New York couple played by Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman. Kubrick substitutes the lightness of the afternoon as a landscape for infidelity with the unreal and unsettling settings of a noirish New York city to create a technically rigorous and emotionally deadening study of marriage. The shortcomings of a film like 'Eyes Wide Shut' is the constant authorial presence of a film maker like Kubrick and though this may seem like a marker of quality cinema, 'Love in the Afternoon' benefits greatly from the unobtrusive cinematic approach of Rohmer.
Labels: French Cinema