Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Eric Rohmer, RIP

I meant to write about this as soon as I heard, but when you get into town 90 minutes before the start of the semester, things tend to get crazy. I am just able to breathe now.

But I'm sad that my first post since I got back has to be about the death of the great Eric Rohmer. My favorite living director, Rohmer was a founder of the French New Wave, writer of intricate and beautiful dialogue about love and relationships, director of beautifully shot films, and one of the great artists of the late 20th century.

Rohmer was always a divisive figure. Some people don't want to watch 90 minute conversations about relationships. Admittedly, not a lot really happens. But isn't that part of life? People fall in and out of relationships, we talk about sex and love endlessly, and none of us really know what to do. This was Eric Rohmer's world.

Rohmer was equally comfortable centering men and women in his productions. His early films tended to have male protagonists, but as he grew older, women played an ever greater role, perhaps cresting in the wonderful Autumn Tale, focusing on an older woman who unexpectedly falls in love after thinking she'd left that part of her life behind.

His late 60s and early 70s films are probably his best--Claire's Knee, Love in the Afternoon, My Night at Maud's. Rohmer made his reputation on these wonderful works. But he also remained incredibly consistent through the decades--with 1987's Boyfriends and Girlfriends and 1992's A Tale of Winter being real highlights.

With Rohmer gone, I don't know who my favorite director is now. Maybe the Coen Brothers. Maybe Wong Kar Wai, but My Blueberry Nights makes me worry about his future. Maybe Wes Anderson, even if his films are all the same.

Update: A.O. Scott says it all much more eloquently than I:

Rather, the name (or the pseudonym) Eric Rohmer conjures a particular tableau of modern Europe, in which generally well-clothed (and occasionally unclothed), nicely spoken men and women converse in picturesque settings, reflecting calmly on the unruly desires to which they cannot help falling prey. His interest always gravitated toward the sexual mores and intellectual preoccupations of the present. And while some aspects of late-20th-century life — most notably, politics — were absent from his palette, he was also free of nostalgia or grandiosity. Meals, conversations, love affairs, excursions to the countryside and trips to the beach: his zest for observing such happenings was inexhaustible.