slightly carla: day four

slight is right. for the next several days my calendar is extremely full so i don't know exactly how much i will be able to get through between now and sunday. i will do at least one a day but i may have to extend the proceedings beyond my usual seven days. i definitely want to get everything in so bear with me.

today i begin work on filling in a shameful gap in my film knowledge with éric rohmer's pauline at the beach (1983).

éric rohmer has always been one of those i meant to get around to but for some reason just have not done it. there is even a copy of the aviator's wife (1981) just sitting here in my collection, mere feet away, that has been gathering dust since i bought it. i couldn't tell you why. the time has just never been right. now that i have experienced this film, though, i am kicking myself for waiting this long. i don't know how it compares to the rest of his work and i have no idea how fitting an introduction it is, but pauline at the beach is a seaside, sunlit revelation and a little difficult to adequately describe. if i had to subtitle it i would steal directly from raymond carver and call it what we talk about when we talk about love. what is magical about is elusive. if this is any indication, rohmer is more of an alchemist than a technician. one of rohmer's comedies and proverbs series, it begins with a quote from chrétien de troyes - "a wagging tongue bites itself" - laying out in five little words the essence of what will be chewed on and chased from beach to bedroom for the next hour and a half. fifteen year-old pauline and her older cousin marion are at the family vacation home on the normandy coast trying to get the last few sparks out of the dying embers of summer. an initial exchange in which marion delves into pauline's romantic history sets the tone for the rest of the film, exposing marion as the much more immature, though older, character and pauline as the pragmatic observer, wise beyond her years. as they while away their days on the beach their universe expands to take in pierre, an ex-lover of marion's who becomes infatuated with her all over again, henri, a womanizer only interested in living in the present with no responsibilities or confinements, sylvain, a local boy who strikes pauline's fancy and louisette, who sells candy on the beach. they each have a drastically different idea about the nature of love and are chasing their own tails when not chasing each others'. imagine if when anton chekhov was writing plays, instead of being a disillusioned doctor living amidst the rubble of a dying aristocracy he had been getting laid a lot. i exaggerate for comic effect and this is a far more sensitive, perceptive work than that but the image gets you pointed in the right direction, what with the constant dissection of desire and the elements of sex farce in the margins.

if brits had made this it would have been terrible.

which is odd for me to say because i often thought of mike leigh while i was watching this. the cast functions in the same lived-in, naturalistic manner as in the best of leigh's works and it's much more of an extended mood piece than a traditional narrative arc. and boy does it capture that mood. it is a vivid and acute distillation of late summer, so much so that you just have to experience it. that's the part of it that is nearly impossible to adequately describe. it is just a perfect evocation in so many ways of literal and emotional twilight coming on and how it will catch up to us no matter what steps we take to defy it, whether it's taking extra time with a cup of tea, talking until the sun comes up or engaging in ill-advised love affairs.

amanda langlet as pauline deserves special mention here. she has an almost supernatural wisdom about her. the understanding she communicates as she watches the adults in her sphere careen about, telling lies, deluding themselves and repeating mistakes is what i am going to think about a long time from now. her face has the softness of a young girl but when she smiles i think she is a thousand years old. she's onto all of us but it doesn't make her feel as if she's necessarily superior. she seems to understand more than all of us put together even as she is going through what will most likely be the most confusing time of her life. i can't say enough good things about her performance. i only hope the rest of rohmer's work is this wonderful and wise, simple and direct. thanks for insisting that i tend to that omission, carla. i feel as if i have been given a gift.

my apologies, but that's all there is for now. maybe tomorrow i can double up on today if i get hot.

we shall see.


  1. I love this movie, so I'm glad you see the same things in it. Last summer this, mon oncle, a movie that's coming up later, and a small handful of other movies I watched at the time started and fed this weird craving I had for red and shades of blue color palettes. It's hard to describe without going into detail, but maybe you'll know what I mean, having just watched a few of them. Another film by rohmer, Boyfriends & Girlfriends, was a part of that group, and I think you would like it, too. It's not as magical as Pauline at the Beach, but it's satisfying in a different way, and it gives you a look into this weird suburban life that I had no idea existed. I wanted to put it on this list as a double feature with Todd Haynes [Safe], but I don't have them on DVD.

  2. i can't wait to see more of rohmer's work. next barnes and noble 50% off sale that six moral tales box is coming home with me.