Friday, June 14, 2019

Classic Movie Review: Love in the Aftermoon (1972)

Love in the Afternoon (1972) 
Directed by: Éric Rohmer.
Written by: Éric Rohmer.
Starring: Bernard Verley (Frédéric), Zouzou (Chloé), Françoise Verley (Hélène), Daniel Ceccaldi (Gérard), Malvina Penne (Fabienne), Elisabeth Ferrier (Martine), Françoise Fabian (Dream Sequence), Marie-Christine Barrault (Dream Sequence), Haydée Politoff (Dream Sequence), Aurora Cornu (Dream Sequence), Laurence de Monaghan (Dream Sequence), Béatrice Romand (Dream Sequence).
On a personal level, I would have loved if Eric Rohmer had kept right on making his Moral Tales for his entire career – although I get it, after a decade of telling variations on the same story, he wanted to move onto something else. His last of the Six Moral Tales is Love in the Afternoon (formerly known as Chloe in the Afternoon, a title I prefer, if only because all the other films have the female character’s name or description – in the title) – and its one of his best.
His male protagonist here is Frederic (Bernard Verley) – and he’s further along in his life than any of the other males in this series. He’s not just engaged, or in a relationship, or have a crush – he’s actually taken the plunge, gotten married - to Helene (Francoise Verley), his real life wife. They already have a daughter, and another child on the way. And yet, of course, he still struggles with the same desires and feelings as all of Rohmer’s other protagonists. Chloe (Zouzou), an ex-girlfriend of a former friend, appears in his office one afternoon, asking for help – help he really cannot give. And yet the two develop a friendship, a flirtation, and we know where this is leading. Here, Frederic has to make the choice as to whether or not to cheat on his wife. Making a return after basically two films off is the constant voiceover narration of the protagonist, although he seems more interested in describing what is happening, then what precisely his thoughts are.
Before we get there though, Rohmer does something he has never done before – he crafts a dream sequence, featuring all the major female actresses from La Collectioneuse, My Night at Maud’s and Claire’s Knee. It is during this sequence where Frederic talks about how he notices women now that he is married. It’s a fascinating sequence, and is Rohmer’s acknowledgement of the films of his past, and his way of wrapping them all up.
The film is basically made up of two kinds of sequences – the domestic home life of Frederic and Helene, which marks another slight departure for these films. Normally the woman the protagonist is with disappears from the bulk of the film, or at least during his flirtation with the other woman, but here it’s part of the fabric of the film. The other scenes are of Frederic and Chloe as they do their flirtation dance with each other. Frederic deludes himself into thinking they are just friends – she just needs a job reference, a reference for a landlady, etc. But she has her sights set on him. But as it becomes clear throughout the film, she doesn’t really want to steal him away from Helene – she just wants to have a baby, and wants Frederic to be the father – and then she will raise it alone.
In many ways, Love in the Afternoon is more typical than some of Rohmer’s films. It was in fact remade by Chris Rock as I Think I Love My Wife (2007) – which surprisingly followed the film fairly faithfully, just with more jokes. The idea of a man being weighed down by the stresses of domestic life, fantasizing about an affair with a beautiful woman, and having to decide whether it’s worth it, is the stuff of cliché. And yet, Rohmer takes it all extremely seriously, without being preachy, and takes the moral question seriously. The final 15 minutes of the film – his final scene with Chloe, where he makes his decision, and then his final scene with Helene, where he has to deal with the fallout of all of this, is among the best sequences in all of these films.
And so now, we are at the end of Rohmer’s Six Moral Tales. They are fascinating, and singular among art house films of its time – six films, telling what in broad outlines is the same story, and finding fascinating variations on a theme throughout. Individually, all the films are very good – with the final three being legitimately great. Taken together, they are a monumental achievement.

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