Sunday, January 18, 2009

Le rayon vert

Last week my good lady wife and I went off to see Il y a Longtemps Je T'aime (I've Loved You So Long), the Kristin Scott Thomas film, which I much enjoyed for its restraint and nuance. This is the kind of film one despairs of seeing in these days of Miramax market-researched movie making. In one scene, the belligerent host of a dinner party begins a tirade about the death of French cinema and how Eric Rohmer is the successor of Racine. We're not inclined to take him at his word but the movie is not without its Rohmer-esque moments.

Which caused me to leave left cinema determined to watch Rohmer's Le Rayon Vert. Talk about delayed gratification. When I was a callow youth of, ooh, 23 or 24, Le Rayon Vert screened at the Perth Institute of Film and Television. I remember the reviews leading up to it. The story of a young woman on holiday who can't make up her mind where to spend it, who to be with or what to do with herself. The review took on board Rohmer's low-key cinema and urged people to go along and see for themselves. I don't exactly know why (I was broke?), but I didn't see it. And kept on not seeing it for about 25 years. 

A friend who did see it then was of the opinion that Le Rayon Vert was a bit of a waste of time. "She wanders around and can't make up her mind and then, pffft!, she looks at the sunset and that's it", was her opinion. So hardly a ringing endorsement and really I was none the wiser. That was probably my first brush with ER. I think the first Rohmer film I saw was L' ami de mon amie (My Girlfriend's Boyfriend), probably at the Windsor Cinema in Nedlands.

Suffice to say that the wait to see Le Rayon Vert was worth it. This is the fifth film on the Comedies and Proverbs sequence and is attended by the couplet: 'Ah, for the days/that set our hearts ablaze'. 

Ah, for the days. For this what Delphine seeks and yearns, to have her heart ablaze with a true and unique  love. But it seems that she is bent on ensuring only her own unhappiness and frustration by a kind of neurosis of place and self, played out in Paris, Cherbourg, the mountains and then, finally Biarritz. However Delphine's avoidance of others, of family, of social friendship and casual affairs, has a purpose that gradually reveals itself through the film. This sympathetic, subtle and skillful film-making. Surprisingly most of the dialogue is improvised. Maybe this is why Marie Riviere has such a command of the role: she is creating it as she goes. The ending of the film is exquisite, a mystery, a possibility, an answer and a question. 

In thinking about this film and remember how first missed it I went for a little search about PIFT. I didn't find quite what I was looking for but did turn up a highly detailed portrait of film culture in Perth in the 1960s and '70s. By the time I was ready to go the movies in the 1980s, (a time before Miramax) Perth had a fertile film agenda and a curiosity about the wider world that belied its remote location, its conservative nature, and the difficulties of getting the best world cinema to the screen in a timely way. Tom O'Regan's article, Film societies and festivals in Western Australia, told me quite a lot I didn't know and didn't suspect, about how a band of dedicated folk brought the world to Perth's screens. People of my age benefitted from some challenging programming at PIFT and the Perth International Film Festival, which took place (and still does I presume) in the pine trees at the University of Western Australia. 

1 comment:

frankenslade said...

I loved I've Loved You So Long, and I too was taken by the scene referencing the Rohmer film. I've never seen it and made a mental note to rent it and see how it might have informed the movie I was in the middle of loving. Thanks for reminding me of the need to make some time for this film!