Sunday, November 2, 2008

The end of the affair

The Aviator's Wife is the first in Eric Rohmer's six-film Comedies and Proverbs series. I watched The Aviator's Wife over two nights while away on a tour of regional Victoria. It's the story of Francois' attempts to woo Anne, a woman five years his elder and of Anne's affair with Christian, an airline pilot. The film opens when Christian visits Anne's apartment early one morning to tell her that things must change as his wife is now moving to Paris. 

The story works as series of fragments, or fractions of the whole, you might say. When Francois follows Christian later that day to Parc Buttes Charmont and sees him lingering there with yet another woman, he assumes Christian to be having another affair. But who is this woman? Further, Francois is 'picked up' by a young woman who joins him in spying on the couple. What does she mean to Francois? Later when he mentions the girl to Anne, Anne all but encourages him to pursue her. 

Each character is unable or unwilling to see what desires others have. In Anne we have a complex, sometimes frustrating woman. Faced with the news from Christian she is clearly wounded, yet shows her defeat with flinty, brittle gestures. Not her for the amateur dramatics. Somehow her reticence rings truer. Yet she treats Francois rather offhandedly. (But he is young and might one day know better.) The story works almost as series of negations, or question marks. Scarcely anyone, it seems, is destined to get what they want.

Richard Brody in The New Yorker recently reviewed The Girl from the Monceau Bakery, a film Rohmer made twenty years earlier. He notes: "His plan is to frame chance as destiny - his great religious quasi-metaphysical theme - and his message, his career-long trope, is the deferral of pleasure in anticipation of true love." 

Chance plays its part in The Aviator's Wife, but not to the point of guiding destiny. The realities of other lives press a little closer here, but the deferral of pleasure is resonant and lasting. The conclusions are more open ended and the film all the more memorable for that.