MCN Columnists
Noah Forrest

By Noah Forrest

So Long, Old Friend

I know that a large portion of my readers come to my column to get some insight or information about the movies currently playing in theaters. Most weeks, I’m obliged to do just that; I think that cinema is an ever-growing organism and there are always issues and idiosyncrasies in the present-day film world that are worth discussing.

Sometimes I write about films that I think are misunderstood by a large portion of the critical elite. Often, I’ll write about a particular actor or filmmaker and discuss their new works in the larger context of the filmography they have assembled. But, my favorite columns to write are when I see films that I believe deserve a wider audience and I try to make my case for why you should give a particular film a try.

This will be one of those columns, but I’m not talking about a particular film or a current one. Instead, I’m imploring those of you who haven’t had the pleasure, to rent or buy an Eric Rohmer masterpiece.

There are certain filmmakers who come along and completely change your perspective, to the point where you can actually see the dividing line of, “life before this filmmaker entered my life” and subsequently, “life after.” I’ve had only three or four filmmakers who fit this bill. Kubrick is one of them for sure (the first one, when I was eleven), then Truffaut followed a few years later and then the next really important one for me was Rohmer. With each of these filmmakers, once I saw but one of their pictures, I knew I needed to devour each and every one of their movies. And I do so in a matter of days.

I had the good fortune to watch my first Rohmer first just a few years ago. The film was Boyfriends and Girlfriends, one of his later pictures. It was part of his “Comedies and Proverbs” series. If I described the plot for you, you would probably be likely to confuse it with an ordinary romantic comedy, something that Meg Ryan or Sandra Bullock would be likely to star in. But it’s not about what it’s about, but how it gets there. Like most Rohmer films, this is a movie about young people and love. His films aren’t necessarily about young people in love, but usually about how they navigate love – or sometimes lust. He’s often interested in triangles, but sometimes squares, which is what Boyfriends and Girlfriends is about: a love square.

Many of Rohmer’s films are about the act of merely discussing love and what it means. This has given critics ammunition to say that his films aren’t about anything or that nothing happens. But, that couldn’t be further from the truth. I think his films are about everything and that everything happens. His movies talk about nothing less than why we are here, what our purpose is, what we’re searching for, why we love, how we love, when we love, etc.

But Rohmer’s films are not merely people talking in closed-off rooms with no windows. He loved to shoot his films in some of the most beautiful locales, like Dinard in A Summer’s Tale, Granville in Pauline at the Beach, Saint-Tropez in La Collectionneuse, or Paris in many of the others. But Rohmer seemed interested in the idea of escape, as many of his films are about the main characters fleeing big-city Paris for the beach or the mountains. He was fascinated by the idea of undergoing an enormous change through our travels and vacations.

It’s hard to pick a favorite Rohmer film because the themes are almost always the same. His main theme was love and then there were all sorts of scenarios that he liked to play with. Even when it doesn’t seem like one of his films is about love, it probably is. In My Night at Maud’s, it’s about a devout Catholic who makes his choice between the bland, naive Francoise and the more experienced and complicated Maud. In the end, however, Rohmer throws a curveball at the audience, subverting our perceptions of who these people are. It seems to be more of a study about our main character and what his choices say about him. But then the ending makes us realize that he is willing to do the most loving thing possible: to pretend to be the guilty party in order to assuage her own guilt.

In La Collectionneuse, he gives us what is perhaps is greatest ending, the main character finally wising up and fleeing not just an immature woman, but his own immaturity as well. This goes back to Rohmer’s interest in not just leaving to go on a vacation, but leaving behind that which has held us back; this is not always just our jobs or our spouses, but sometimes our own demons and insecurities.

Perhaps Rohmer’s most famous film is Chloe in the Afternoon, a film which is about ultimately fulfilling your fantasy…only to realize that your fantasy might not be what you need or truly want. It’s about adultery, but it doesn’t make any judgments about the main character since Rohmer was possibly cinema’s greatest humanist. It merely presents his situation from his perspective, allowing us to understand if not approve of his actions. Again, we are presented with the theme of escape, this time we have a main character with a family, a job and responsibilities that he feels handcuffed by.

In Summer, we have a character who continually wants to get away. She is all alone for her summer vacation, going from place to place and perpetually fleeing. The problem, however, is not the places she’s going to or the people she’s meeting; the problem is that she is an insufferable person to be around. She can run and run all she wants, but she will never be able to escape the one thing that will hold her back: her own personality.

Rohmer made three different “series” of films. There were his “Six Moral Tales” then came his “Comedies and Proverbs” series and then finally his “Tales of Four Seasons.” I can’t pick a favorite because each of his films is so special. I think the “Comedies and Proverbs” has some of the highest highs including the wonderful Aviator’s Wife, but A Good Marriage might be my least favorite of his films. If I was going to pick one film that you should see in order to “get” Rohmer, that would provide a litmus test of whether or not you’d dig most of his work, then I would recommend starting with either La Collectionneuse or Pauline at the Beach. I’m not saying these are his best works, but perhaps the most singular.

But to be quite honest, there’s no wrong place to start. Eric Rohmer was 89 years old when he died last week. To quote Robert Altman’s A Prairie Home Companion, “The death of an old man is not a tragedy.” But when the old man was still churning out great films and had crafted some of the greatest works of art in cinema history, I will mourn it as a tragedy. Do yourself a favor and honor this great man by watching one of his movies.

Noah Forrest
January 18, 2010

Noah Forrest is a 26-year-old aspiring writer/filmmaker in New York City.

The opinions expressed in these columns are the writer’s and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Movie City News or any of its editors or other contributors.

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It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon