“Delicious. I could eat nothing but pastries.” – Young man
The visual metaphors of Rohmer‘s first Moral Tale hides its discreetness with the pellucid dusting of powdered sugar. The young man invests in women the same way he invests in food. On the one hand there’s Sylvie, from whom he desires commitment, who mocks his boyish impulse to wreck his stomach with sweets. Then, like the fifth cookie in a baker’s dozen, there’s shy Jacqueline. After seemingly ending it with Sylvie, the young man pulls all the sugary nothings of a horny undergrad to seduce the inexperienced baker – in the ways of casual love, that is.
I’m going to end the summary there, since I dislike reviews that describe the movie’s plot in detail. In my opinion, this is not just an important French New Wave film, but an invaluable piece of cinematic history. I’m curious if Rohmer, around the time his contemporaries at Cahiers du Cinéma (notebook on Cinema) crafted the Auteur theory, sought out to personify auteurism, or did so unconsciously. To put it plainly, Truffaut explains the theory as holding relevance, importance, and interest in a certain “filmmaker as author’s” work, even if it’s not his or her best. In other words, because this is an Eric Rohmer film, it’s important.
Both championed and criticized for his overtly literary approach to cinema, the great French director seems to be misunderstood in his definition of the cinematic. Often wordy, highbrow, and, to some, boring, his films weren’t as well-received (financially) as Godard’s or Chabrol’s. In an insightful interview between Rohmer and Barbet Schroeder (the protagonist and producer), the director claims his imagery was overlooked by audiences and critics alike.
Echoing the master of the moving image, Alfred Hitchcock, a great film can tell a story without the sound on. I believe, quite frankly, that Rohmer’s films do just that. Though the camera movements, close-ups, and impressionist angles are sparsely used, he writes just as competently with the camera as he does with the pen.
At just twenty three minutes, the nameless protagonist works as a vehicle to raise a moral question. Through his actions, words, and context, the audience must judge the man and his vice for themselves. In Eric Rohmer: Blueprints for a Brilliant Oeuvre, author Ginette Vincendeau explains,
“Rohmer subtly oscillates between a celebration and a critique of his protagonists. As he put it in a 1965 Cahiers article, “I am a man [. . .] and my tales are stories told in the first person.””
Why do I enjoy Eric Rohmer’s films – outside the fact I’m a cinematic Francophile? He lets his characters think for themselves. Further, the intellectual composition of each shot poses just as many existentialist questions as the dialogue. There should be no surprise at this claim, since the author/director was notoriously rhetorical in his approach to critique and theory – read Celluloid and Marble for an example.
It’s short, ambiguous, and oh so french. Watch it, then go have yourself a glazed pear tart.
Here’s the interview in its entirety:
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