CHLOE IN THE AFTERNOON (L'Amour l'apres-midi, 1972)
I can't really tell you anything about the "Six Moral Tales" except that this is the last of them. It consists of a prologue, a first act that actually comprises most of the film, and a half-hour second act. A voiceover identifies the main character and narrator of the film as Frederic, a young lawyer with a wife and daughter, with another baby on the way. We meet his partner and their secretaries and we learn that Frederic's the kind of guy who likes to be among people but not necessarily with them. He enjoys crowds. He goes shopping in department stores to escape the afternoon tedium of the office. He says he loves Helene, his wife, and while we don't necessarily doubt him he exhibits an odd sort of alienation that craves the anonymity and generality of crowds. That happens to be a kind of alienation I can identify with, so Rohmer has my interest for now.
Act One introduces a woman from Frederic's past, the Chloe of the film's American title. They were never lovers from what we see, but Chloe was apparently bad news for one of Frederic's friends who attempted suicide during their relationship. She's aggressive and brusque and back from years abroad. At different times she wants Frederic to hire her or help her find a job, to help her close on a new apartment, or to screw her. She's one of those almost stereotypical French persons who are philosophically articulate on the subject of adultery and its normalcy in human nature. She's not out to break up Frederic's marriage, but feels that he, like anyone, is entitled to cheat for the sake of variety. Polygamy or polyamory is her ideal.
Frederic works the amulet. A big hat and bigger more colorful lapels would probably be helpful.
One film is insufficient evidence for me to declare any director a master, so I'll content myself with saying I liked L'Amour l'apres-midi quite a bit. It's a modest movie filmed in naturalist mode apart from the occasional jarring jump cut and the irresistible temptation of an overhead shot of a spiraling staircase in Chloe's apartment building. The modesty extends to standard-frame imagery and a drab look (despite some ace cinematographers, but perhaps because of a bad Fox Lorber DVD transfer) inevitably enlivened by location work on the streets of Paris. It may be that as a director Rohmer was a great writer, be he gets good performances from his actors, Bernard and Francoise Verley as the couple and Zouzou as Chloe.
I guess it's simplest to say that Rohmer was part of the humane tradition of cinema. He's a director for people who want an empathetic experience from movies, or insights into human nature and human relationships. As a rule I still tend more toward a spectacular or sensationalist aesthetic sense for which empathy isn't always the highest priority, so I doubt that Rohmer will ever become one of my favorite directors. But I felt that I owed it to history this week to verify for myself that he had the talent and insight others claim for him, and on the strength of this film, at least, I think that history will vindicate him.
The illusion of intimacy in crowds is comforting to many a city dweller, Rohmer suggests.
Bonus: If you want more images from Chloe, check out Jeremy Richey's Moon in the Gutter for an extensive photo set.