Thursday, August 17, 2006

ROHMER AND NOTHINGNESS

Posted on Thu, Aug 17, 2006 at 4:00 AM

Eric Rohmer's Six Moral Tales
Studio: Criterion Collection
WorkNameSort: Eric Rohmer's Six Moral Tales

Seinfeld got a lot of mileage out of being 'a show about nothing,â?� but Eric Rohmer was there first.

Not much happens in a Rohmer film, whether it's Claire's Knee or My Night at Maud's or La Collectionneuse. People just sort of sit around eating, drinking and smoking, but mainly thinking and talking, mostly about sex. And if the dialogue does, at times, threaten to be 'about something,â?� most of it, in the end, is no more consequential than the coffee-shop banter of Jerry and his friends.

'Having nothing to do for the first time in 10 years, I undertook to really do nothing,â?� says Adrien, the layabout hero of La Collectionneuse. 'That is, to take inactivity to a new level I'd never before reached.â?� Aside from the sophisticated structure of the sentences, doesn't that sound just like something George Costanza might have said?

I hope I don't seem to be putting down Rohmer (or Seinfeld). In fact, I think it's terrific that you can now get a great big box of his most exquisite 'nothingâ?� masterpieces in Eric Rohmer's Six Moral Tales, a new six-disc DVD set from the Criterion Collection.

This elaborate set contains all six 'moral tales,â?� comprising the four brilliant features (My Night at Maud's, La Collectionneuse, Claire's Knee and Love in the Afternoon) and two superb shorts (The Bakery Girl of Monceau and Suzanne's Career) that Rohmer ' who is now 86 ' made between 1962 and 1972. It also contains other Rohmer shorts, interviews with the director and his collaborators, a booklet of essays about his films and a book of the Rohmer short stories that inspired the films.

If you're new to Rohmer (whose real name, by the way, is Jean-Marie Maurice Scherer), perhaps the best place to begin is with the featurette that includes a conversation between him and Barbet Schroeder, his producer and sometime-actor and a respected director in his own right (Reversal of Fortune). Their talk hits the key issues, such as Rohmer's fondness for dialogue over action, his place among the French New Wave directors (who also include Truffaut and Godard) and what he means by the term 'moral tales.â?� This featurette also notes that all six films have the same basic premise: A man falls for one woman and is promptly distracted by another.

A good place to end your Rohmer tour is with the featurette that contains an interview with filmmaker Neil LaBute (In the Company of Men, the upcoming remake of The Wicker Man), a great Rohmer admirer. He points out that Rohmer films (like his own) feature beautiful people in beautiful settings who sometimes do ugly things. And he reminds us of the famous line in the 1975 thriller Night Moves in which the private eye played by Gene Hackman compares the experience of watching a Rohmer film to watching paint dry.

Any appreciation of Rohmer has to acknowledge the grain of truth in that dismissive statement. If you're not on his wavelength, there isn't much for you there. But if you are, the interplay of ideas in his films is inspiring. Eric Rohmer's nothing turns out to be really quite something.

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