Tuesday, July 17, 2012

#346: La collectionneuse

(Eric Rohmer, 1967)

Although La Collectionneuse is the fourth film in Rohmer's Six Moral Tales series, it was shot and released third and is consequently the first feature film the director made in the series. It's also the first film he made with the great Nestor Almendros. (Almendros also made his feature debut as a cinematographer here; he'd eventually amass a body of work nearly unparalleled in modern cinema, including Days of Heaven, probably one of the most beautiful movies ever made.) Because of this, Rohmer was trying a number of things out in the film, which has a looser and more experimental feel than the three features which followed it.

In fact, the film serves as a more appropriate bridge between the shorts and features in the series than My Night at Maud's. It is perhaps the most literate of all the entries, complete with prologues - little short stories introducing the three main characters - and a heavy dose of first-person narration looking back on the action as it unfolds in real time. But it's also not as rigidly structured as the other three features. Like the shorts, it feels like a work in progress, a further refining of the techniques and themes that would fully blossom in the coming features.

On the other hand, La Collectionneuse is a wholly satisfying work. Adrien is perhaps the most repulsive protagonist in the series, a mostly empty, sexist narcissist who rarely exhibits flashes of appealing characteristics. The elaborate plan he constructs for Haydee in his meandering voice-overs is so deluded and convoluted that he can almost convince the viewer that there is some grand conspiracy at play for him to give in to this "lesser" creature. For her own part, Haydee manages to oscillate between appealingly sexually liberated and almost tragically beholden to her social worth. When these characters come together, Rohmer and his actors construct such rich dialogues and sexual chemistry that the results are fascinating and gripping on a level such small stories rarely reach. I ended up enjoying the movie almost as much as its much higher-profile companion My Night at Maud's, certainly a high compliment.

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