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Eric Rohmer 1920-2010

A great artist and a great critic. My New York Times obituary is here.

373 comments to Eric Rohmer 1920-2010

  • I’m glad you mention his criticism. Not only is it beautifully crafted (which would be a given), but it’s genuinely provocative, full of eloquent challenges to received ideas about art and cinema. The essay “Such vanity is painting” is still a head-spinner, reminding me a bit (just a bit, mind you—I don’t suggest any equivalences of philosophy) of some of Gerhard Richter’s writings.

    Rohmer’s writings on Preminger I find particularly inspiring.

    One of the greats. His droll performance in Rivette’s “Out One” suggest he could have been a fine actor as well!

  • Tom Brueggemann

    Can one imagine a character in Up in the Air or The Hurt Locker or 500 Hundred Days of Summer today referring, even disparingly, to a Pedro Almodovar film today, let alone Assayas or Denis?

    Seeing Ma nuit chez Maud as a high school senior in its first run was one of the seminal moments of my maturation as a film viewer. And then he continued to engage, amaze, amuse and awe me for nearly four more decades. This is indeed a sad moment. He was one of a kind.

  • Tom, I had a similar experience. I was in high school when AUTUMN TALE came out and it was one of the very few foreign films the video store in my hometown carried. He was my entry into the New Wave and for that he will always be the most dear to my heart.

    I found an interview and a Rohmer video primer (en Francais). They’re here .

  • dan

    Dave, that is a beautiful, moving obituary. I can’t think of a better way to do it.

    I find this both fitting and peculiar, but although I love most of Rohmer’s works, his two films I hold most highly are his debut, THE SIGN OF LEO, and his sublime final film, THE ROMANCE OF ASTREE AND CELADON. It’s ‘peculiar’ because I can definitley understand why MA NUIT CHEZ MAUD and LE GENOUE DE CLAIRE are his most known and loved works, while at the same time, like them a bit less than the others. Its ‘fitting’ because of the fact both films come from such different phases in his career must means I think he kept his vitality and orginality as a filmmaker all they way threw.

  • This line from the end of the article is a beautiful summation:

    “Mr. Rohmer remained true to a restrained, rationalist aesthetic, close to the principles of the 18th-century thinkers whose words he frequently cited in his movies. And yet Mr. Rohmer’s work was warmed by an undercurrent of romanticism and erotic yearning, made perhaps all the more affecting for never quite breaking through the surface of his elegant, orderly films.”

  • Blake Lucas

    I second Sami on the beautiful ending to the piece quoted above. The last sentence just seems so wonderfully true about Rohmer’s films.

  • Zach Crowell

    sami: Thirded.

    “In my more than 20 years at the Chicago Reader, whenever an old film came to town that had a Reader capsule on file by Dave Kehr, my long-term predecessor at that paper (who left the paper in the mid-1980s), I always had the option of either using that old capsule or writing a new one. On almost every occasion when this happened, I opted for the former — for my money, Dave was and is the best capsule reviewer in the business, bar none.” – Jonathan Rosenbaum

  • Joseph McBride

    Dave, that’s a fine obit. Thanks to you, the Times has finally become “the paper of record” where film is concerned.

  • Tom, 500 Days, an otherwise so-so romcom with appealing leads, contains a horrendous parody of ’60s Euro art cinema that struck me as a pretty low blow, all the more so for being unrecognizable and pointless.

    I don’t know where you’d shoehorn a film reference into HURT LOCKER. Maybe that long sniper sequence (the waiting part), Mackie could’ve turned to Renner and said, “I saw a late-period De Toth, it was like watching scorpions kill each other.”

    YOUTH IN REVOLT has an Ozu/Mizoguchi ref. Haven’t seen it but it can’t be any dumber than the NIGHT MOVES line.

  • Kent Jones

    Yes Dave, great work as always.

    What Tom says is true – he was absolutely one of a kind. After reading all this stuff about THE LADY AND THE DUKE and ASTREA AND CELADON, both of which are very beautiful, I am compelled to say how much I loved TRIPLE AGENT. Who else, in the entire world let alone french cinema, would have made this film?

  • Thanks for the kind words, guys. I appreciate it.

    I’ve just been reading the obituary in “Liberation,” in which the anonymous author dismisses “Conte d’automne” as a “gang-bang viticole irrésolu” — an original observation!

  • Kent Jones

    As opposed to the earlier “gang bangs philos irrésolus?” Why would they publish that kind of crap in an obit? Man…

  • Junko Yasutani

    Elegant and orderly. Yes, Dave, that is the true description of Rohmer movie. He was making movie that had unusual cutting to dialogue. Not reading sub-titles I noticed it, he was showing wide world in one place and people joined and seperated by space they was in together, with dialogue connecting people and seperating. I look at actors face in his movie to understand more about scene and noticing cutting then.

  • Tom Brueggemann

    Jaime – I’m not a fan of 500 Days beyond the acting (not a non-fan, just not too interested) – but it was a contemporary film full of smart successful young people. If there had been a reference to Almodovar, it wouldn’t have made it past the research screening.

    Hurt Locker could have had references to Oliver Stone or Tarantino or Spielberg or any of a number of other filmmakers.

    (To be honest, though, I remember when first seeing Night Moves that the reference was a little awkward; Arthur Penn of course had his own relationship to the New Wave, and I wondered if he added the line on his own).

  • Tony Wiliams

    Yes, Dave K, A very fine and precise obituary in the spirit of the man’s films.

  • Brian Dauth

    Dave K: “elegant, orderly films” is right (maybe why his work is so special to me0. There is a cut at the beginning of A TAKE OF AUTUMN that for my money should be as famous and lauded as the bone-spaceship cut in Kubrick’s 2001.

    I remember in another thread when I was talking about space for a gay viewer, someone wondered if there was space for a gay viewer in Rohmer. All I can say is that for this queer guy there was ample room. It wasn’t as if Rohmer depicted queers or went for a general humanistic outlook. It just always seemed that he provided enough specifics to draw you into his narratives and characters, but left enough space for a viewer to complete the image herself. Watching his films demanded your participation/contribution in order for them to be complete, and the invitiation to become involved was so “elegant,orderly,” it seemed downright churlish to refuse Rohmer’s request.

    Last thought: I first saw LA COLLECTIONEUSE in my late teens — walked out. THE AVIATOR’S WIFE (NY Film Festival) next – walked out. Then PAULINE AT THE BEACH (Film Forum) — everything clicked at last and I never looked back. An ex-boyfriend still remembers FULL MOON OVER PARIS as that weird French movie I took him to.

  • Criterion has posted a conversation between Rohmer and Barbet Shroeder from the Box Set for Six Moral tales:

  • Tony Wiliams

    In view of all the sad news we’ve received lately I thought I would post this 100th birthday announcement of someone still with us today.

  • Dave, that was quickly done, and beautifully said,

    As for his writing, A TASTE FOR BEAUTY is a book I need to have close by.

    Here’s a nice quote where he speaks about his work: “After all I do not say, I show. I show people who move and speak. That is all I know how to do, but that is my true subject.”

    Kent, my first thought when I heard the sad news of was to see some of his films again, so I had a look in the video store (I’m in Stockholm at the moment, far from the treasures of St Andrews), and the only one available was TRIPLE AGENT. Fitting though since it’s one of the few I haven’t seen. Will watch it tomorrow, and somewhat excited about that.

  • Jaime – I’m not a fan of 500 Days beyond the acting (not a non-fan, just not too interested) – but it was a contemporary film full of smart successful young people. If there had been a reference to Almodovar, it wouldn’t have made it past the research screening.

    I don’t really buy this. I submit that an Almodovar reference would have made it past a “research screening.” I probably have as much knowledge about the film’s production as you, so…what are we talking about, exactly?

    Your earlier post seems to lament the lack of “smart” film references in contemporary, mainstream movies. The trouble I have is, you selected films using the criteria, “contain no specific movie references within.” I can think of an equal number that do. Named one, in fact: YOUTH IN REVOLT, (although I’m using Slant Magazine’s review as reference).

    Plus, you also cite Tarantino, which………?

    Spielberg included a scene from HOUSE OF BAMBOO in MINORITY REPORT.

    Don Draper of MAD MEN is clearly taken by films like LA NOTTE, and this is not just a tacked-on name-drop but a signpost in an ongoing investigation of his complex character.

  • fayed

    a great loss indeed:( , i just wonder dave if the archive of your posts before April 2008 still exists ?

  • Griff

    Dave, thanks for a moving obituary of Eric Rohmer. It did my heart good to see it appear in the Times.

  • Tom Brueggemann

    Jaime –
    My point is that a contemporary American general audience film today is far less likely to have a reference to a current director of non-English language films, no matter how celebrated, as they were 40 or so years ago. Not sure this minor side remark of mine has been contradicted.

    On Mad Men references – I know for a fact that the writers/producers of this series are keenly aware of movie links and homages (I’ve had a bit of a hand in this from a distance actually), and are always delighted when people catch them.

    Among other things – I see a lot of links between Jon Hamm and James Garner (without the latter’s humor). The whole series of corporate-set movies from the late 50s to mid 60s seem to have been a treasure trove of influence. (And there have also been a couple foreign film references too, which of course makes sense for 1960s white collar/educated class life.)

  • Peter Henne

    Thank you for your fine obituary, Dave. I want to clarify something from my 1-11, 5:27pm post in the previous thread. I don’t wish to say Rohmer spurns “rigorous discourse.” What I was after is that the kind of speech which counts as “learned” never really digs deep enough for Rohmer, and that a wide variety of characters in his films provide enlightening moments for us, not only the educated ones. Everyone, however, tries to speak well, from Trintignant’s bookish introvert in MY NIGHT AT MAUD’S to the adolescent title character of PAULINE AT THE BEACH, and I believe the effort is what counts. A good example within a single film is the two title characters of FOUR ADVENTURES OF REINETTE AND MIRABELLE, one of them a student, the other an amateur artist, both of them engaging with their separate talents and limits. Rohmer’s work itself has rigor, including the collection of his essays, “The Taste for Beauty,” that’s already been cited here.

  • Michael Kastner

    Dave a great & subtle piece.I wonder how many more filmmakers will be sent off with words like elegant & orderly. Rohmers work was always of a whole but individual just the same.
    Four Adventures of Reinette & Mirabelle has long been my favorite Rohmer & one of my favorite French films.Never one of his most acclaimed films even if a certain Chicago Tribune critic had it in his 89 top ten. To me it’s a distant relative to Celine & Julie. A delicate & witty film without, I might add, a U.S. DVD release.
    His short fils are also a joy. The one I love most is The Curve, a beguiling, perfectly constructed film.
    A sad loss but the man left a great legacy in print & on film

  • Dave K, Kent… my French isn’t the best: does that Liberation quote translate as “a gang-bang of unresolved wines?” or a “gang-bang with unresolved wines?” or “unresolved gang-bangs with wine.”

  • Has Reinette and Mirabelle ever appeared on DVD — even in unsubbed form? (though I doubt I could stay afloat linguistically for a whole unsubbed Rohmer film.

  • Not sure this minor side remark of mine has been contradicted.

    Um…if your point was, those specific films couldn’t have name-checked Almodovar, it’s impossible for either of us to say. But YOUTH IN REVOLT bears as close a resemblance to NIGHT MOVES as 500 DAYS does, and it name-checks Ozu/Mizoguchi. I have now mentioned this three times; if it doesn’t make it past your gatekeeper, it’s due to your will, not my ability to communicate.

    Plus, what good ‘ol day of name-dropping are you evoking, exactly? That’s half your argument right there.

  • Dave, yes, a lovely summary of someone who will always be one of my artistic heroes — I’ve just reread the obit though, and suspect it’s been edited and revised since it first went up? It’s equally possible that I’ve scanned so much commentary on him this afternoon that it’s all running together. I am pretty sure that some other publication actually printed the name of one of Rohmer’s sons.

    The quotation from NIGHT MOVES deserves some attention, however: like F. Scott Fitzgerald’s remark about second acts in American lives, it’s frequently cited (often by people trying to demonstrate how smart they are) and yet incompletely understood. In this case, under the pretext of going to see a Rohmer film, Gene Hackman’s wife has actually made a rendezvous with her lover, and Hackman is well aware of it, so there is a bitter irony to his pronouncement that complicates the question of his (or Arthur Penn’s or the screenwriter’s) true feelings about Rohmer.

    About the screenwriter of NIGHT MOVES: his name is Alan Sharp, and I credit Howard Rodman for alerting me to his undersung talents. He also wrote the scripts for THE HIRED HAND and ULANZA’S RAID

  • I am saddened to hear Eric Rohmer passed away. In regards to the French New Wave, I have always preferred Eric Rohmer’s MY NIGHT AT MAUD’S and CLAIRE’S KNEE over Francois Truffaut’s TIREZ SUR LE PIANISTE and JULES ET JIM and also Jean-Luc Godard’s À BOUT DE SOUFLE and VIVRE SA VIE. I prefer Eric Rohmer’s conservative realism over the former’s stylishness and cinematic trickery. His films have a humanizing touch attuned to real human experiences as they present the daily lives of articulate characters. He was attuned to the importance of communication, verbal and non-verbal, and he depicts sophisticated individuals in face of difficult moral challenges. His films make me feel like I have been to the cities they take place in.

    I really enjoyed his episode “Place de l’Étoile” from PARIS VU PAR… which started out like a cheeky exposé on individualistic mannerism people exhibit as they try to cross a busy intersection, and then switches into a story of a nebbish tie salesman. There is this really funny scene where the tie salesman gets into a fight and then runs away from the crime scene in what he late discovers to be a roundabout!

  • For those needing to fill in gaps in their Rohmer DVD collection, Amazon UK is offering an 8 film box set for about $22 (including slow postage). If you can play Region 2 DVDs, this set is a steal.

    Includes ‘The Aviator’s Wife’, ‘A Good Marriage’, ‘Pauline At The Beach’, ‘Full Moon In Paris’, ‘The Green Ray’, ‘My Girlfriend’s Boyfriend’, ‘Love In The Afternoon’ and ‘The Marquise Of O’. I have half of these already, but the price is much lower than buying the four needed films separately.

  • david hare

    Michael K, there is indeed an English subtitled version of Reinette et Mirabelle available. I don’t have it but I will contact you through the critforum PMs.

  • Andrea Middletown

    Fine director but I must confess his movies didn’t affect me like the films of the other New Wavers did–particularly early Truffaut, 60s Godard, and later Chabrol. Rohmer was consistent, refined, dignified. Stability of mind and character kept his motor going for a long time but didn’t produce a singular masterpiece like Jules and Jim or Alphaville. Still, his entire body of work is impressive, and as Pike Bishop said, “I wouldn’t have it any other way”.
    Take the violence out of Eastwood’s films, and they’re comparable to Rohmer’s work. Consistency, hard work, dedication, and modesty.

  • My favourite of Rohmer’s was the first film of his I have seen, Le Rayon Vert which is one of the most beautiful films in the world, to borrow an old C-de-C tagline. The films that have really impressed me has been his period films like Perceval le Gallois or The Lady and the Duke and Triple Agent which are all incredibly personal efforts.

    He once said that the main reason he only made period films in the final decade of his career was that he could no longer write modern dialogue because the standards of spoken French have declined terribly.

  • Joseph McBride

    Spielberg unfortunately borrowed the watching-paint-dry line for his comment on BARRY LYNDON. I am hoping he might not feel that way now, but I suspect that comment in re the Kubrick film might find some approval here!

  • What Spielberg actually said was that seeing Barry Lyndon was like going to the Prado for lunch. Which isn’t that far off come to think of Kubrick’s affected style in that film. It’s still a great film though.

    I must say I have never found Rohmer’s films like watching paint dry. They are fascinating and mesmerizing experiences. One thing about Rohmer that people don’t respect was that he was keenly interested in new film technology, he wrote an article on the possibilities of CinemaScope(even if he never, to my knowledge, used the format) and the use of colour. Then he turned to digital as calmly as you please.

    L’Anglaise et le Duc is one of the most radical period films of all time…more than Satyricon or Barry Lyndon it approaches historical recreation as science-fiction…and the reason why Rohmer insisted on digitally placing his actors in paintings was that he felt that was the only way to show how Paris actually was during the Revolution as opposed to using any old building and manufacture period flavour which to an authentic realist like him is an act of profound bad faith. He used something similar for Perceval where again he felt that medieval ruins were too modernized to actually summon medieval atmosphere…so he manufactured everything from scratch and insisted on period troubadour music…the result is a faithful Arthurian tale that’s actually funnier than the Monty Python parody. When he made Die Marquise von O… he took four years off learning 18th century German so that he could write authentic dialogue. That’s method directing for you.

  • Joseph McBride

    Arthur, that’s right, I should have looked it up to be more precise. He was not wrong in stressing the painterliness of the film. Part of the strength of Kubrick’s approach is showing the anguish and turmoil his subjects are experiencing within a painterly frame that expresses both the feeling of the period and its sense of rigid order. And approaching historical recreation as science fiction is a good way to put it. Both the past and the future are imaginary constructs to some extent. I didn’t “get” BARRY LYNDON in 1975 (and/or maybe I was just tired after a long day of work); it was not until a few years ago that I saw it again and was stunned to discover how truly original and daring and moving it is. Two other great films that most people haven’t “gotten” yet are Kubrick’s EYES WIDE SHUT and Spielberg’s A.I. ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE.

  • Kent Jones

    I just returned home from the New York Film Critics Circle Awards, where I ran into Dave. There were three lovely tributes to Rohmer: from Armond White, the host; from Andrew Sarris, who was accepting an award for lifetime achievement (he ended, movingly, by paying tribute to the cinema, “which has provided me with an alternate existence to which I will never be able to pay adequate tribute”; and from my friend Olivier Assayas, who has always loved Rohmer and who said that he would never have dreamed of making SUMMER HOURS if not for his example.

    Fredrik, you have a rare experience in store. What an unusual movie that is. The emotional layering is remarkable. If that seems like an ambiguous bit of phrasing, you’ll know what I mean after you’ve seen it.

    Michael K. my French was pretty uncertain back in 1992, but I watched A TALE OF WINTER without subtitles and got every word.

  • Blake Lucas

    Fredrik, I agree with Kent that you have a great experience in store with TRIPLE AGENT. One of Rohmer’s most unusual films and it’s superb.

  • I have very mixed feelings towards Stanley Kubrick’s films in general. I always found his work too glib…Barry Lyndon however, I got at once. It’s this amazingly personal and heartfelt film and certainly a great way to show how period films ought to be done. I love period films or anything that involves re-creating the past, and I think it takes more creativity and insight to understand the past than to try and speculate on the future. That said, I love AI.

  • Gabe Klinger

    I saw TRIPLE AGENT with a vicious crowd of international press and industry folks who greeted it with boos and sneers at the Berlin Film Festival in 2004. I stood up and cheered as loudly as I could, adding a few “bravos” here and there (the only time I’ve played this type of festival game which is more typical in Cannes, I guess).

    Rohmer wasn’t present but his actors were. The reaction surprised me a little bit. But then I thought: “Of course they’re mad: such a brilliant film, one that actually takes itself seriously and has THINGS TO SAY, has no business being in a competition reserved for mediocrity.” I forget who won the Golden Bear that year… I think it was that overrated Fatih Akin film.

  • nicolas saada

    Sibce we talk about Rohmezr, we have to talk about “Cahiers du cinema”. Has anyone read Emilie Bickerton’s “short history of Cahiers du cinema” ? What does she say about Rohmer ?

  • dan

    Here’s Rohmer’s reaction to NIGHT MOVES’s infamous quote.

    and here’s Brad’s favorite, Jon Jost, writing about Rhomer on his blog.

  • Nice piece on Rohmer by Jost, though I must say it’s quite unusual how it segues from a tribute to Rohmer to talking about America’s foreign policy.

    I saw a Jost film once, it was like watching a movie.

  • Johan Andreasson

    Provided it’s a watercolor painting, where the drying changes the grain and shape of the paper and creates interesting outlines between the different fields of color, it can be a very pleasurable experience watching paint dry – almost like watching a Rohmer movie.

  • Good obit, Dave.
    But can I make an observation that is absolutely puzzling to me? I have read two obits and one appreciation all of which essentially say that Rohmer has his detractors and then go on to mention Gene Hackman’s character in ‘Night Moves’. Has it not occurred to these writes that Hackman’s character is fictional and therefore is not real? It seems to me that if Rohmer had detractors [and he probably did] it would behoove one to mention real people and real critics with those views – not movie characters with opinions that are written into a script to give the character a certain trait.

  • Tom Brueggemann

    Dan – thanks for that Rohmer interview clip (as well as the very funny riffs on the Night Moves line).

    Watching The Bakery of Monceau last night reminded me of the link between Rohmer and Mad Men, if tenuous. Bakery of course stars Barbet Schroeder, who also was Rohmer’s early producer and distributor, as (to oversimplify) an amoral predatory male in a sophisticated urban city of 1963.

    Flashforward 46 years – Barbet Schroeder does his first-ever TV directing work (unusually late for most contemporary directors) on the 2nd to last episode of season 3 of Mad Men, set in 1963.

    I’m told that Matt Weiner, creator/main writer of Mad Men, is an acute cinephile with a special interest in 1960s cinema, so I wonder if his pursuit of Schroeder might have been related to his awareness of Schroeder’s work with Rohmer.

  • Blake Lucas

    I was going to post something very similar to what MattL wrote above after reading a number of Rohmer obits (every single one of which mentions the NIGHT MOVES line, though most forget to mention many of his movies–for example, Dennis McLellan in the L.A. Times, which I’ve complained about before for its poor obituaries, skips everything between CHLOE and Rohmer’s final movie, and that includes favorites of many people here). Then I watched the very enjoyable Rohmer interview Dan linked and found that even Rohmer himself, perhaps understandably as he hadn’t seen the film, felt the Moseby line was an actual real critical judgement on his films, when, on the contrary, Penn is an admirer of Rohmer’s films.

    Although it’s indeed amusing that somehow a fictional character has somehow become an actual critical naysayer, I believe there’s a moral lesson here that should be taken more broadly, because I see this same error right here every day. If a character is a soldier, someone is going to say the director loves war; if a gay character does something malevolent, someone will say the director is homophobic or anti-gay; if the hero is a racist, well it just means the director condones racist attitudes. But it doesn’t mean this (or if it can, it rarely actually does); these characters and situations are created for all sorts of reasons and no artist’s actual attitudes are simply traceable to those expressed by the characters. If someone is dramatically portrayed, the opposite may just as easily be true, or the character’s behavior or attitude may simply have a whole independent purpose. In any event, Harry Moseby, a beautifully drawn character, is also a man who is in every way intelligently and non-derisively critiqued by the narrative and his own actions throughout the film for his attitudes toward just about everything. Doesn’t it make sense to see his line about Rohmer in that context?

  • Peter Henne

    Thanks, Dan, for the link to the Jon Jost piece. Seems to me his essay is a study in opposites, such as the civilized and uncivilized. Johan, I’ve been thinking how describing Rohmer’s visual style doesn’t come easily for me, though it is no less distinctive than Antonioni’s and Akerman’s, two others who paint by the slow-dry method. C. G. Crisp’s book on Rohmer deliberately pushes aside discussion of visual style. Rohmer, like Naruse, uses shots of medium length, and their duration avoids announcing themselves as style traits. In most of Rohmer’s films, the aim seems to be to make shot lengths and editing effortless and natural (which is not to say they are invisible and seamless). They flow along gracefully and unobtrusively (but not necessarily inconspicuously). But unlike Naruse, there is a hedonistic streak within his vision of temperance and modesty. This comes from his ardor for sunlight, foliage, attractive people and welcoming places (as opposed to threatening ones). Rohmer’s films love bodies and sun. His spiritual cousin across the arts might be Raoul Dufy, another artist whose work depicts strong natural light, social scenes, trees and plants and beautiful women in chaste strokes. Dufy’s slightly canted angles also agree with Rohmer’s gently handheld movements. Dave’s obituary made a comparison to Fragonard, arguably the root of French impressionism, who said beauty is nature in perfect health. The foil to this larger part of Rohmer’s work is the group of films Jost mentioned, the films “steeped in artifice” which seem be there to pose a stimulating challenge to his naturalistic leanings.

  • Barry Putterman

    But really, isn’t that line from NIGHT MOVES so often quoted (agreed, TOO often quoted) because it captures so well the reaction that a number of filmgoers have towards films such as Rohmer’s, rather than anybody mistaking Harry Moseby for an actual person or projecting that attitude on to Gene Hackman or Arthur Penn? Actually, it is likely that more people remember that line than they do the movie it comes from. And many of those people might just have the same reaction to NIGHT MOVES that Harry Moseby did to Rohmer.