Saturday, February 4, 1984
Rohmer's beach beauties
By Steven Susser
T HE CHARACTERS in Eric Rohmer's latest film, Pauline
at the Beach, are master theorists of love. He uses a
quiet retreat in northern France at the close of a recent
summer as the forum for their brilliance.
Only a Frenchman could fill two hours with discourses of
amour. Yet, Rohnier, with meticulous camerawork and sub-
tle character analysis, creates a magical world of striking
beauty and bourgeois languor.
Pauline is third in the Comedies and Proverbs series,
other films being The Aviator's Wife and Le Beau Marriage.
The connecting link is the proverb, "He who talks too much,
bites his own tongue;" an equally suitable aphorism would
be, "Love is blind."
The six attractive and vivacious people who do the groping
are: Marion, an almost divorced young Parisian fashion
designer with the body of Aphrodite; Pauline, her cute 15-
year-old cousin and charge for the vacation; Pierre,
Marion's former lover whose passions are rekindled upon
reunion; Henri, the urbane and devious ethnologist on
vacation from the Pacific; Sylvain, a local teenager who
takes a fancy to Pauline; and Rosette, the effervescent and
gangly candy seller at the beach.
Their interplay revolves around one major scandal of lies
and mistaken identity and several less important satellites,
but is confined to love and lust in varying manifestations.
The plot could have degenerated into banality, but is saved
by Rohmer's inciteful observation of some common human
characteristics, including our tendency to deceive ourselves.
A combination of directorial skill and competent acting make
the characters important and realistic.
During one early scene at a local bar/dancehall, the
camera focuses on Marion's shapely posterior and legs as
she glides into an adjacent room. At the end of her trajectory,
she pauses and assumes a pensive air - left knee slightly
bent, hand on table, back straight. She knows that lustful
eyes are upon her yet feigns indifference and self-confidence.
Rohmer forces us to participate; we become the lascivious
bar patrons, for the camera remains stubbornly immobile.
We stare and she loves it. Marion, however, is not a confident
person, and she is only deceiving herself and others. She
needs constant reassurance of her beauty and desirability,
hence the seductive pose. What she intends to be a disclaimer
of inner strength only reveals to us her weakness.
Pierre is too naive and direct for such role playing. He can-
not reconcile the fact that Marion is uninterested, and
repeatedly asserts such comments as, 'she will eventually
learn to love me' or 'how can you not feel about me the way I
feel about you?'. Compared to Marion's more subtle body
language, his blusterings are too forceful.
His self-deception, in fact, becomes hypocrisy when he
says things like, 'He (Henri) is so dull' or 'I don't like to im-
pose myself on others.' It is predictable Pierre, with his
monotonous moralizing, who is dull; as for imposition, he
does it in the face of direct rebuttal and humiliation. Henri at-
tracts Marion because he has a beneer of mystery - even of
callousness which represents a titilating challenge., Pierre
does not know how to play the game.
Pierre's optimism, however, is not unique. We all know truths
which we refuse to accept; we, like Pierre, are incorrigibly
There are two other subtle forms of deception. In the first
scenes, Pauline is trimming flowers in the background;
Marion enters in the foreground, a ravishing figure in a scan-
ty, diaphonous white dress. She is, at this moment, quite
breathtaking, making Pauline seem a bit less attractive in
the process. Toward the end of the film, however, there is a
scene in which Henri rouses Pauline from bed in a curious
manner. Pauline seemed to me at this point, beautiful and
sensual. As the movie progresses, Marion becomes more ar-
tificial, while Pauline adopts a natural attractiveness.
Rohmer, I believe, is deceiving us. 'Pauline's transfor-,
mation is. not the result of make-up or camera tricks.
Physical beauty is deceptive while inner harmony and virtue
are constant. Pauline is unpretentious, honest and wise.
Of all the characters, she alone has the ability to listen and
the desire to understand others. Her fellows are busy im-
pressing themselves with glib comments and pseudo-
intellectual banter. Pauline feels no need to impress with her
insight, for she is content to absorb. I can see her now:chin
tilted slightly upward, large brown eyes open wide with in-
terest and mouth set in a calm, slightly amused manner -
she is marvelously attractive, physically and spiritually.
Marion Vidal writes in her book, Les Contes Moraux
D'Eric Rohmer, about a series of six movies that he directed,
"Une interpretation possible du theme des Contes ,est la
decouverte, chez la seductrice, d'une beaute jusque-la
ignoree" (Poorly translated: 'a possible interpretation of the
theme of the stories is the discovery in the seductress of a
beauty formerly ignored).
Henri is conniving, manipulative, and disliked by most of
the characters. Even Marion seems to feel more fascination
than affection. He is, however, a very personable and
charismatic man who has spunk and joie de vivre. In com-
parison, Pierre is insipid and whiny. Furthermore, his decep-
tion is manifested externally, for he is quite honest with him-
self. When he speaks, he gives the impression that he
believes and adheres to his words. In the last scene, for
example, he speaks to Pauline about women with unusual
candor and perceptivity. He may not treat others well, but he
does not deceive himself.
Rohmer and cinematographer Nestor Almendros eschew
action in favor, of analysis. The acting is sublime; even
Marion, who seems forced and unnatural, is meant to be this
way, for it is her desired image. In the scene in which she
renews Pierre's acquaintance she exuberantly yells,
"Pierre" and springs with sprightly and exagerrated leaps to
hug him. While pleasurable in motion, she is ridiculously af-
Special mention must go to Rosette, who gleans her part to
perfection. She is spunky, brash, kooky and a pleasure to
The deftly manipulated camera evokes, these -thespian
talents by stubbornly focusing on only one character in a
dialogue until we truly understand this person; the camera
may remain fixed for five minutes. This soul-barring is done,
in typical Rohmer sytle, through gestes, glances and facial
expressions. As Marion Vidal writes, "...ces attitudes
revelatrices qui nous font pressentir, l'espace d'un instant,
toute la profondeur et la richese d'une vie interieure." (again
translated: 'these revealing attitudes make us feel, in one
moment, all the depth and richness of the soul'). Pierre, with
his puppy-dog eyes, I thought particularly effective.
The dialogue is important but the most profound analysis is
felt and seen rather than heard. In fact, the whole film is very
visceral. The colors are so vibrant, the air so pure and the
ambiance so calm that the personality clashes and vitriolic
remarks are mitigated and a happy feeling pervades.
As Pauline and Marion leave the beach house at the end of
the film, they stop just outside the gate to talk. Marion, in
referring to the major scandal that I mentioned, says that
her judgement of respective guilt may have been wrong, but
that she has convinced herself that she is correct. She ad= ,
monishes Pauline to do the same only with opposite con-
clusions; convince yourself, she says, of what you choose to
believe. With a quick squint of the eyes, Pauline cheerfully
replies, "Tout a fait d'accord," and the car drives away.
Pauline knows the truth, not only as concerns the scandal,
but probably about most of the characters. Yet she refrains
from dismaying her cousin. With perfect symmetry, the role
reversal is complete. Pauline is beautiful and strong, protec-
ting her guardian from the truth. Marion blatantly reveals
her somewhat sad tendency to self-deception and even seems
a bit childish. Her rationalizations, however, have saved her
ego and we cannot help being wryly amused as she escapes
with little more than a sore tongue.
MARTIN E. MARTY
Not another exercise in suspension of
disbelief, as in all those from the Don
Juan tale. In this libretto, Ernani, a
nobleman turned bandit, is in love with
Donna Elvira who is betrothed to the
Duke Silva. As you can guess, Elvira
loves Ernani only and frequently grabs
daggers off various men's belts
threatening to kill them and herself if
they don't yield.
As a whole, there is far too much
nobility and honor in this play to make
it all believable - and yet it is more ex-
citing and its characters sympathetic
than the usual Italian operatic diatribe.
Placido Domingo sings Ernani with a
warm, rugged but soaring quality. Not
to mention the fact that, with his
waistline, he is far more believable as
Don Juan of Aragon than Pavarotti. To
give credit where it is due, Pavarotti,
who recently performed in a television
version of Ernani. is a rare talent, but
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at the beach
Religion and the Values Crisis:
What are the Options?
Sunday, February 5, 7:30 p.m.
9:55 a.m. - First Baptist Church Morning Worship. "The Most
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