Lets see… Godard, Truffaut, Chabrol, Besson, Clair Denis, Jean-Francoise Richet, and Eric Rohmer. That’s about all the French film directors I can name. Yesterday, at the Sarasota Film Festival, I watched Eric Rohmer’s Summer which is also known as Le Rayon Vert or The Green Ray.
First of all, this film was brought to the cinematic screens and theaters in 1986. So why was it playing at the SFF in 2011? Tom Hall, the Festival’s Artistic Director told us that recently the print of this film had been remastered, and that through a friend at the French Consulate in New York, they were able to bring it to the festival.
On its surface, Summer is the story of Delphine, a woman in her late 20’s or early 30’s who is a Parisienne, and a secretary. Shortly after meeting her, we learn that she’s just been dumped by her boy friend via a phone call, and just a scant two weeks before her summer vacation is to begin, a friend who had made plans to go on vacation with Delphine cancels. So with her summer vacation plans suddenly gone, Delphine is at loose ends.
Well Rohmer’s stock in trade is talk. Then more talk. Followed by still more talk. This seemingly is in direct conflict with one of the dictums of films which is to show not tell. Possibly Rohmer cut class that day long ago in film school.
So Delphine needs to talk about her situation, then have a cry on someone’s shoulder, then talk some more. She’s a woman who seemingly embraces loneliness. She’ll protest that this is simply not the case, again and again, but, when you watch her over the course of this film’s 96 minutes, you will find, that Delphine also tends to isolate herself when in the midst of her friends, or her family, or even with men.
She knows what she likes, and even if the circumstances dictate that she be a bit more flexible, she simply can’t waver from her quirks. First Delphine meets her girl friend on the banks of the Seine. It is July and hot. People are taking the sun. Delphine immediately asks her friend to move off to a shady spot, and then they talk. The friend suggest that Delphine go off on her own during her vacation time.
Delphine then meets with a small group of her girl friends, where once again she becomes the topic of conversation. The friends believe that Delphine is heading down a path that will take her to just one destination – loneliness.
From there, Delphine will take a trip to Cherbourg, a trip to the mountains, and a trip to the beach. In all of these places, Delphine will have a head on collision with her own insecurities, her sense of what she will do or not do, and she will always choose the path of least resistance – meaning, if it’s not her way, she’ll take the highway.
Delphine won’t eat meat, or even sea-food – plus she’s the fifth wheel, so Cherbourg lasts only a day and a half. The mountains only a half day because the mountains remind her of some awkwardness in the form of one night stands – which she simply doesn’t want to repeat. At Biarritz, she meets a girl on the beach, and shortly thereafter, a couple of guys. The other girl is Swedish and easily wraps men around her fingers. Delphine watches. She’s tongue-tied.
Finally, at the Biarritz railroad station, she meets a guy. They exchange glances, and the guy takes the cue and comes over. Shockingly, Delphine is the aggressor, and she asks this guy if she can go with him to his destination which is a small port city further along the coast. Things are looking good. Delphine asks if they can go to a promontory and watch the sunset. Off they go. Delphine is hoping to catch the so-called Green Ray which is a brief, last bit of color of a sunset and is caused by the earth’s atmosphere, the curvature of the earth, and the refraction of the sunlight.
We learned all of that earlier in the film when Delphine listened in on a conversation of a group that was discussing a Jules Verne book. While we had to listen and watch this boring bit of science being discussed, we had no idea, that it would become a turning point in the film.
Well, here comes the sunset. Delphine watches. We watch. I couldn’t quite see the green ray myself. But evidently Delphine did. And she bursts into tears; voila – the film ends.
A woman sitting next to me in the theater said to her friend, “I guess we should have stayed home“. Meaning, she thought she had wasted her time with this film. Me too.
I liked Marie Riviere who played Delphine. She’s a tall and willowy woman, not unattractive, and unlike Delphine, she likely doesn’t have a problem with loneliness. Riviere played the role of Delphine with the lots of fluttering, her hands were always reaching to touch her collar bones, again and again. Was she building a barrier to hide behind, or was she just subconsciously trying to minimize her presence? It was a fine piece of stage craft.
But for me, the Rohmer reliance on conversations just wore me out. As a viewer, I expected something to happen but it was all talk with hardly any action. Not only is the conversation non-stop, but it usually comes at the expense of the characters actually doing something.
In the end, I felt that I had been hijacked by Rohmer, and made to listen to his feelings about men and women, relationships, and how all of it is simply a false and futile attempt to achieve a sexual connection. All of this was funneled to us through Delphine’s flutters, tears, and idiosyncratic behavior.
While Delphine couldn’t find a way to enjoy her vacation, I couldn’t find a way to enjoy this film. Yes, I know Rohmer was considered one of France’s leading directors and film auteurs. He passed away last year. But I know what I like. Go ahead, call me idiosyncratic.