Love in the Afternoon (L'Amour l'après-midi) [DVD]
Director : Eric Rohmer
Screenplay : Eric Rohmer
MPAA Rating : R
Year of Release : 1972
Stars : Bernard Verley (Frédéric), Zouzou (Chloé), Françoise Verley (Hélène), Daniel Ceccaldi (Gérard), Malvina Penne (Fabienne), Babette Ferrier (Martine), Tina Michelino (The Passenger), Jean-Louis Livi (The Colleague)
Love in the Afternoon (L’Amour l’après-midi), the sixth and final installment of Eric Rohmer’s “Six Moral Tales,” is also the first and only fully adult “Moral Tale” in that there are no students or teenagers as primary characters. In Rohmer’s first two “Moral Tales,” the short films The Bakery Girl of Monceau (1962) and Suzanne’s Career (1963), the main characters were college students, and their romantic entanglements were understandably deprived of full maturity. In the next three films, My Night at Maud’s (1969), La Collectionneuse (1967), and Claire’s Knee (1970), the protagonists were grown men, but they were attracted to or tempted by girls, rather than women.
The fact that Love in the Afternoon is fundamentally and thoroughly about the realm of adulthood--burdened as it is with responsibility and duties--gives the film a feeling of maturity and growth, marking it as the summation of Rohmer’s view of love and fidelity throughout the six-film cycle. Each of the “Moral Tales” is about a man who is with or desires one woman, but is tempted to stray by another. Love in the Afternoon is the first of Rohmer’s films in which the relationship that is threatened is of genuine value, rather than being an idealized dream (as in The Bakery Girl of Monceau, a new development (My Night at Maud’s), or a relationship of questionable validity that is left entirely outside the narrative proper (Claire’s Knee).
Rather, in Love in the Afternoon, the relationship at stake is a committed marriage that has already produced one child and is about to produce another. It has history and presence, and therefore seems to have more value when threatened by the infidelity dance--the back and forth of “Will he, or won’t he?” dynamics that are composed of equal parts emotional turmoil and heady intellectual reasoning. Rarely have the head and heart been so thoroughly enmeshed as in Rohmer’s films.
Yet, at the same time, Love in the Afternoon may be the “Moral Tale” with the least amount of urgency, which is likely the result of Rohmer’s thematic consistency finally working against him. Having seen the previous five “Moral Tales,” with their similar arcs and slight variations on the same theme, we know exactly where the story is headed. To be fair, this criticism could be leveled at any of the other films depending on the order in which they are watched, and perhaps it is because I have watched the entire cycle over a week-and-a-half period that Love in the Afternoon didn’t strike the chords of discontent and relational threat with the same force as the other films.
The protagonist of Love in the Afternoon is Frédéric (Bernard Verley), a comfortably bourgeois lawyer who lives in the suburbs and rides the train each morning into the bustling heart of Paris. The film’s lengthy opening prologue (comprising nearly a third of the film) establishes that he is in love with his beautiful and pregnant wife, Hélène (Françoise Verley), but that he also has a wandering eye. At one point, he imagines that he has a talisman around his neck that allows him to easily seduce any woman on the street, a rare foray into full-out fantasy in the midst of Rohmer’s otherwise strict realism. (In a bit of amusing casting, Rohmer has the parts of various Parisian women who catch Frédéric’s eye played by the actresses who appeared in the previous “Moral Tales.”)
Frédéric’s temptation comes in the form of Chloé (Zouzou, an icon of ’60s French bohemianism), an old friend who materializes in his office after a six-year absence. Like the actress who plays her, Chloé is a former model, but her beauty is hard-edged and somewhat cold, suggesting that she has already lived too much. Most importantly, though, she is everything Frédéric is not: unattached, unemployed, and, most of all, sexually unmoored. Just as Maud did in My Night at Maud’s, Chloé represents a form of liberated female sexuality that challenges the protagonist’s seemingly cemented views of sexual fidelity. However, Chloé is even more combative in her challenges, which her makes simultaneously the most intriguing and unappealing of Rohmer’s women. Her assertiveness comes across as smugness, which is usually the province of Rohmer’s men. Not surprisingly, then, Frédéric is the most sympathetic of Rohmer’s male protagonists--a genuinely decent guy who wants to do the right thing, but is constantly drawn into Chloé’s admittedly exiting orbit, which forces him to constantly remind himself and her that he’s not “doing anything wrong” (no filmmaker is better at showing how men justify their ill-advised actions to themselves and others).
Despite being one of the weaker entries in the cycle, if only because it may be guilty of reworking the thematic material one time too many, Love in the Afternoon has plenty to say about the nature of love, fidelity, and honesty. It suggests that Frédéric, like all men, is flawed and therefore can be tempted, but that he has a choice. The film’s existential dimension, which is so pronounced in all of Rohmer’s “Moral Tales,” gives it a tense intellectual edge because it keeps the characters in control of their own destinies.
The film’s ultimate embrace of marital love and commitment stands in stark contrast to the “free love” ethos of the era in which it was made. But, much Stanley Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut (1999), Rohmer’s film comes to this conclusion via a rough and challenging road that justifies its seemingly simplistic and conservative ending by appealing to the enduring power of the human will. Anyone can fall in love, Rohmer seems to be saying in all of these films, but true, enduring love lasts because it is a choice one makes.
|Love in the Afternoon Criterion Collection DVD|
|Love in the Afternoon is available exclusively as part of the Criterion Collection’s six-disc box set “Eric Rohmer’s Six Moral Tales,” which also includes The Bakery Girl of Monceau , Suzanne’s Career, La Collectionneuse, My Night at Maud’s, and Claire’s Knee. In addition to supplements on each disc, the box set includes a paperback of the original stories by Eric Rohmer, as well as an insert booklet featuring Rohmer’s landmark essay “For a Talking Cinema,” excerpts from cinematographer Nestor Almendros’s autobiography, and new essays by Geoff Andrew, Ginette Vincendeau, Phillip Lopate, Kent Jones, Molly Haskell, and Armond White.|
|Audio||French Dolby Digital 1.0 Monaural|
|Distributor||The Criterion Collection|
|SRP||$99.95 (box set)|
|Release Date||August 15, 2006|
|VIDEO & AUDIO|
|Transferred from a 35mm interpositive and digitally restored, Love in the Afternoon looks great. As with the other color films in the box set, Nestor Almendros’ cinematography has a brilliant shine to it, although Love in the Afternoon is not nearly as bright and colorful as La Collectionneuse or Claire’s Knee. As it is set almost entirely in the city, most of the scenes are composed primarily of earth tones and grays, with occasional dashes of color in the clothing or interior designs. The image is clean and clear, with a pleasing film-like appearance that maintains the integrity of the grain structure. The monaural soundtrack, transferred at 24-bit from a 35mm magnetic track, also sounds great. This film has a bit more going on aurally than some of Rohmer’s other films, with nondiegetic music over the opening credits and odd, piercing sound effects during Frédéric’s fantasy sequence.|
|The supplements on this disc include Véronique and Her Dunce, an 18-minute short film directed by Eric Rohmer in 1958 (it was the fourth film he ever made). Writer/director Neil LaBute, many of whose films are like the dark side of Rohmer’s “Moral Tales,” offers a 12-minute “video afterword” in which he sums up his thoughts on the six-film cycle and how they have influenced him. Also included is the film’s original theatrical trailer in scratchy, nonanamorphic widescreen (although Rohmer shot the films with the Academy aspect ratio in mind, most of them were projected in matted 1.66:1 widescreen).|
Copyright ©2006 James Kendrick
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