Monday, July 23, 2012

#348: Love in the Afternoon

(Eric Rohmer, 1972)

Love in the Afternoon feels a lot like a film from a different New Wave series, Truffaut's Bed and Board. The two films take a similarly light approach to the question of marriage gone routine and the temptations that come with it, though Rohmer's character, of course, ultimately chooses not to indulge his desires. There is a lot of comedy here, but it often comes in small, subtle doses - Rohmer was never one to match Truffaut's or Godard's winking, playful tones. There is one more overt moment, however, when Frederic fantasizes about approaching women on the street. The scene itself is whimsical and funny, but it is given an added touch of knowing humor by the inclusion of many of the women from the earlier films in the series as objects of his desire (in fact, the sequence itself harkens back to The Bakery Girl of Monceau and My Night at Maud's where the protagonists actually do run up to a woman on the street). Although the moment isn't as moving as, say, the final scene of the Three Colors trilogy or as clever as the Breathless joke in A Woman is a Woman, it's always satisfying to see a filmmaker acknowledging and rewarding the commitment of a multi-film arc by tossing in elements like that.

Beyond the humor, Rohmer's final film in the series is a touching and memorable conclusion, and perhaps the least obtuse "moral tale" of the lot. The challenge for Frederic is clear from the beginning: should he stray from his marriage or not? What nearly took me off the rails in this film, however, was just how pathetically unlikable Frederic was. Although all of the protagonists in the Six Moral Tales have some degree of disagreeability in their personalities, Frederic was harder to handle for me simply because he was so desperate and seemingly devoid of backbone. The film's redemption comes when he finally makes the decision to stay loyal to his wife, but by then it's been a somewhat difficult journey.

Two more notes on this final Moral Tale: I found the depiction of Chloe in the film to be an especially interesting portrayal of a woman for the series, both in the way her character acts and responds to the world and in the way she was viewed entirely through Frederic's eyes. Molly Haskell wrote an interesting essay for Claire's Knee about the way women are depicted in Six Moral Tales - a fundamentally male-centric work of art - but I would imagine there is a fascinating book either waiting to be written or having already been written on the subject. Finally, I wouldn't mind seeing the other Love in the Afternoon in the Criterion Collection - it might be middle-of-the-pack from Wilder, but it's a fine mid-50s Hollywood romance with two great stars.

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