Monday, January 25, 2010

Skorecki and Mourlet on Eric Rohmer

Two tributes to Eric Rohmer I've translated, from the respective blogs of Louis Skorecki and Michel Mourlet:


On Rohmer

by Louis Skorecki
(original French version appeared here, on January 14, 2010)

Entretien sur Pascal [Interview on Pascal] by Eric Rohmer, 1965:

That a man of that quality can pass away in the blink of an eye, without a peep, on tiptoe, says everything about his nobility... That the media, and TV especially, remain silent in the face of his death (he filmed hours and hours of pure leçons de cinéma for educational television) speaks volumes about the lack of culture in these same media-outlets... He was obviously the greatest French filmmaker after Bresson, and before Brisseau and Moullet, two of his most brilliant disciples... We're still going to try our hand at two or three other words (which will be added to the only decent text to have been published upon Rohmer's death — that of Philippe Azoury in Libération), but we can already put forward the notion, without fear of slipping up, that he was one of a kind in the cinema, and that he taught everything to Jean-Claude Biette, Marguerite Duras, Jean Eustache, and also a certain... Woody Allen (La Collectionneuse is from 1967, Annie Hall from 1977).

Regarding the quietude surrounding Eric Rohmer's death, we can already remark upon one thing: only his actors were faithful to him, humbly testifying about what they learned from him, with an intelligence and a modesty that compels admiration.

P.S.: Rohmer's death at last allows us to do away with the foundational heresy of Bresson's cinema, that sublime myopia that would hold theatre as the sole entity accountable for all the evils of the cinema — while he [Bresson] will go down by far as the most brilliantly theatrical of filmmakers, from his two inaugural films, Les Anges du péché (sublime incursion into the Mizoguchian porno), and Les Dames du bois de Boulogne (contamination of the narrative by way of a parallel sado-lesbian intrigue)... Rohmer on the other hand will linger, obliquely, upon the perversities of Les Petites filles modèles, Bresson holding to a more frontal, more Balthusian eroticism — but all this will, in the end, stand only as theater, sublime theater, and nothing more...


Eric Rohmer

by Michel Mourlet
(original French version appeared here, on January 21, 2010)

Six contes moraux: III: Ma nuit chez Maud [Six Moral Tales: III: My Night at Maud's] by Eric Rohmer, 1969:

Starting off a new year with one man's passing which should scarcely provoke any optimism, and yet it must, as little as that might be, in order to nourish the ardor for writing. It's a syllogism, rather vicious, as with all syllogisms: I write whenever I despair; and yet to write is to have hope (to communicate, to endure, to be acknowledged, to find a solution, and to put the chaos of thoughts into order, etc.); therefore I have hope when I despair.

But to have hope when Eric Rohmer leaves us? To hope for something, yes, and I think I know what: that we'll still live long enough to see certain people, certain things, find their right place, a place for the the rectitude of the gaze, a place for approximation and error, a place for authentic creators, a place for impostors and snake-oil salesmen. A place for "that which is spoken," a place for truth.

An astonishing symptom of the era: the exclusion of one of the most singular and most startling films in French cinema, L'Anglaise et le Duc, rejected in 2008 [sic — I believe Mourlet means 2001. -CK] from the proposed selection at the Cannes Festival for reasons whose ideological stupidity could only belong to France — the official France, that of taboos and la Parole unique, goes along with the flow. It seems that every mishap of our arts and letters over these past forty years can be found sketched out in this episode, which explains in large part why, once so brilliant and admirable, these letters and these arts cut so drab a figure in the world today.

I came to know Eric Rohmer at the end of the Fifties. In name, he shared the post of editor-in-chief of the Cahiers du cinéma with André Bazin and Jacques Doniol-Valcroze. In reality, he was the group's kingpin. He worked there from morning till night. I was a very young cinephile itching to write about the movies. This cinephile had published two or three articles in a few inconsequential little periodicals of the sort that crop up all over the place, and he dreamt of seeing his prose sparkle upon the paper belonging to the prestigious revue in which a new body of cinematographic thought was being elaborated. Of that body of thought, one of the pillars was obviously Le Celluloïd et le marbre, which Rohmer pursued in serial publication and which seemed to us, along with the articles by Rivette, that which got closest to our own ideas.

Thanks to Rohmer, who among other gifts had that of knowing how to distinguish and bring talent back together, the Cahiers enjoyed at that time, and up to the point of his eviction (which I was told about in vague terms much later on, without being given any names or details) by apparatchiks whose obscurantism would have made comrade Zhdanov blush, enjoyed, as I was saying, its apex, as much in terms of the writing as in critical discoveries and analytical finesse. I'm not going to rehash once again the points of the little Story now familiar to the specialists: the Macmahonians landing at the Cahiers, my protest printed entirely in italics, the special issue dedicated to Losey, events only made possible by the tutelary presence of, and the exceptionally intelligent overture from, Rohmer.

After Jean Curtelin handed me the reins of Présence du cinéma, I lost touch with Eric Rohmer, although I'd often get word of him through his good friend Jean Parvulesco. (Bear in mind the scene from L'Arbre, le maire et la médiathèque.) I didn't see him again until 1985, when I was heading up a class at l'U.E.R. d'Art et d'Archéologie de Paris I where he was also teaching. He hadn't changed one iota: thin, elegant, the bony face à la Clint Eastwood, always a bit entrenched behind a smiling distance, the rapid, choppy, sometimes near-stammering elocution, betraying a shyness that he had held onto like a charm from his youth.

His first feature, Le Signe du Lion — in which I portrayed a patron at a café terrace! — didn't do much for me; neither did La Collectionneuse. The film that turned me on to his oeuvre and at the same time created a definitive bond with myself was Ma nuit chez Maud. This film and the ones that follow seemed to me like some paradoxical continuation of Marivaux in contemporary society, paradoxical essentially because this cinema shifted the focal point of the image onto the dialogue, and because the language of mise-en-scène became the mise-en-scène of language.

It's not deceiving oneself to make reference to Marivaux while considering this later man as a delicious draughtsman of verbal arabesques around the map of Tendre, an heir in some way to the amorous casuistry in fashion during the preceding century. Marivaux doesn't embroider marivaudages; he's an explorer of the freedom of will, and his plays are so many training manuals, sometimes cruel, for emotions in the light of reason. This was precisely the topic of Eric Rohmer, who defined across the Six Moral Tales the general theme of his films like such: "While the narrator (we can replace 'narrator' with 'hero') is in search of a woman, he meets someone else who captures his attention until the point that he rediscovers the first woman."

After this moral of coming-of-age and the primordial role of the verb — as though this Christian was telling us that "in the beginning was the verb" — as though speech is ever "theatrical" — a third characteristic allows us to place Rohmer's films in a category resolutely apart from that which gets made today: far from spraying them with the sociological foam of a present-day always threatened by obsolescence and removed from the deep permanence of a citizenry (as long as it's not replaced with another), this filmmaker didn't show the "legal" French society of the mediasphere, but the real French society of the second half of the 20th century. And he did it with a precision and, let's venture the word, a documentary joyousness that brings us back to his cinephilic and critical admirations, those he invokes in Le Celluloïd et le marbre: Flaherty, Murnau. Thirty years ago, I took the liberty of laying the cards on the table: "When our descendants seek out beneath the centuries' dust our true face, they'll find it more certainly in the reality of Rohmer's fictions than in the fiction of reportage and investigations."


Some thoughts I posted about Rohmer on the day he died can be accessed here.



  1. Thanks for the translations.

    Skorecki mentions Biette -- a name you never see in English-language criticism. My opinions on him are still sorta forming, as I've never seen one of his films subtitled and my French is notoriously weak. Your take on the man, if you have one?

  2. i just encountered your blog (thanks to a google alert) ... merci de vos éloges/thanks for the kind words of praise ... i'lll certaintly be back ... for more intense reading

  3. Merci M. Skorecki...

    J'ai été longtemps un grand fan et 'follower' de vos écritures. Je vous écrirais directement mais je n'ai aucune adresse d'email pour vous. A bientot avec espoir.


  4. It's still hard to find good blogs about cinema but they are here! Thanks!


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