Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Sat Sep 12, 2020 6:53 pm 
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Two different young women sharing a flat in Paris

This is available on Metrograph till Sept. 18, if you join

This film is divided up into four "adventures" : 1: "L'Heure bleue" (The Blue Hour); 2: "Le garçon du café (The Waiter); 3: "Le Mendiant, la Kleptomane et l'Arnaqueuse" (The Beggar, the Kleptomaniac and the Hustler); and 4: La Vente du tableau (Selling the Painting).

Rohmer's stories are simple and fresh, as always; this time they are a string of semi-independent anecdotes. He crafts them around people, this time, roommates in Paris, young women who meet in the country and agree to share an apartment in the city. They're contrasts of world-views and levels of understanding. Country girl Reinette (Joëlle Miquel) is an artistic, self-taught, judgmental girl who comes to study art. She's an enthusiast, but goes overboard and often seems to be struggling. The Parisienne Mirabelle (Jessica Forde), who studies law, is sophisticated, cool-headed, and free-thinking. Life seems easier for her. She doesn't lose her cool; she easily blends in. They meet when Mirabelle is on a visit to the country and Reinette offers to patch the flat on Mirabelle's bike tire. Reinette shows her paintings to Mirabelle, who stays to observe the wonderful "blue hour," (actually only a minute) Reinette tells about, the magic moment before dawn when the light is deep blue and the air totally silent.

Viewers may be reminded of Rohner's deliciously sad 1986 feature film starring Marie Rivière, Le rayon vert ("The Green Ray" aka Summer), also about a moment of magical light, but at sunset. A missed chance to observe the "heure bleue" leads Mirabelle to stay another whole night, see the light, hear the silence, observe the animals, and suggest they share her flat in the city when Reinette comes to Paris for art school. Patience is required for this segment. Rohmer teaches us here to observe the beauty of darkness and silence and watch the farm animals while the personalities of the two young women emerge so naturally that one may forget it's acting.

What follow are incidents that climax in an art sale, and all revolve around money. "The Waiter" is a variation on the ancient comedy of humors, a joke about how mean people can be in Paris; but later Reinette will turn out to be mean in her own way. Is it intentional that one just can't like Reinette but one feels forced to forgive her, as Mirabelle does? In "The Waiter" the latter tells Reinette how to meet her at a café after class that afternoon. Even on the way Reinette runs into two men whose contradictory directions to "Gaiety Street" lead them into a grumpy Parisian argument. Reinette runs off, having spotted the street and the café on her own. The coffee she orders is 4 francs. All Reinette has is a 200-franc note (about $40). The waiter takes this as a calculated insult and begins to abuse her. He won't give her change and won't let her leave. He says her claim that a "friend" is coming is only a scam used on him before: he won't be fooled again! The scene ends with both Mirabelle and Reinette running off to escape the crazy waiter, a comic figure of ill humor.

The next Adventure, "The Beggar, the Kleptomaniac and the Hustler," is a compendium of three ways of getting money without working for it. We learn how self-righteous Reinette is and how naive. She criticizes Mirabelle for not giving money to panhandlers. Mirabelle argues that it's not possible; there are too many of them. As for the "kleptomaniac" - a young women who shoplifts in a supermarket, this is ingenious staging and later, storytelling. Mirabelle saves the shoplifter from being caught by two store detectives by grabbing one of her bags at the cashier's, and then gets stuck with the bag and the shoplifter's stolen groceries that include champagne, smoked salmon, and potted duck. These delight Reinette, who thinks they're for her birthday - till she learns how they were obtained and gets very upset.

The two young women argue over whether a brutal method like sending her to prison or a subtle one like narrowly saving her from capture would best reform the kleptomaniac's behavior. Again, the arguing is so well done and seems to fit the two personalities so well, it almost seems real. Reinette's contradictions show again in the station when a hustler (Marie Rivière) pulls the standard scam of asking for money for a ride home, and Reinette gives it to her, then, later, after Reinette has gotten into money problems of her own, finds no one will give her change. She tries holding out the two francs to show she really is seeking change for them, but a panhandler just grabs both coins out of her hand and hurries away. None of this alters Reinette's high righteousness, until the female hustler reappears and tells her another sob story that Reinette believes. Reinette is too inexperienced to make sound moral judgments. Éric Rohmer is like Jane Austen - but without the marriage at the end of the story.

The last "Adventure," number 4, the most complete sequence and the most lighthearted, features the great Fabrice Luchini as a gallerist. Reinette's money problems have grown serious since a small inheritance she was counting on has been delayed and she can't get a job and can't pony up her half of the rent, or stay in Paris, she thinks, if she can't sell a painting. Another joke follows in a scene where Reinette just won't stop talking as she explains to Mirabelle how she doesn't believe in words. She repeats that she does not repeat. To prove she really can be tight-lipped, Reinette challenges herself not to say a single word the next day.

But she needs to try to sell a painting and has an introduction to a gallerist. He calls and wants her to come the next day, and she insists on staying true to the challenge, so MIrabelle offers to go with her to the gallery to help work around this. Luchini-watchers well know that the hyper-articulate actor has no need of an interlocutor and this scene is a tour de force of gallery talk nonsense that he spins out as Reinette only shakes her head or looks troubled. This ruse works well. Nothing is so hard to argue with as silence. Against his better judgment he winds up giving her, through Mirabelle, 2000 francs in cash, the price of her painting. The last words, spoken to a couple of wealthy women browsers, cap off the scene with the painting's new price.

Rohmer's episodic films of this kind, which go back to 25 years earlier, may seem trivial, but are also classic. Sometimes they achieve the purity of fable, but it's their essence that he does not push them too hard. They are entertainments that may make you think about behavior. Artistically, the best ones are those that focus extendedly on a single person, with problems of love at the core, such as Le rayon vert and the Melvil Poupaud-starring Summer's Tale. After all, Rohmer had made the philosophically explorative My Night at Maud's, back in 1969, the most exciting and intelligent sexual tease movie ever made, and the even more teasing, but more intellectually vapid, Claire's Knee in 1971.

Why, a year after Le rayon vert, was he making little five-finger exercises like 4 Adventures of Reinette and Mirabelle? Because he works like a craftsman, in little scenes. Sometimes they emerge into a greater strucure and sometimes they don't. The method is always the same, the devil is in the details. Rohmer's consistency and simplicity in constructing characters and scenes and their focus on human nature help explain why his films don't seem to age.

Four Adventures of Reinette and Mirabelle/4 aventures de Reinette et Mirabelle, 99 mins., debuted in France Feb. 4, 1987 and was shown at Toronto Sept. 1988, opening in the US July 1989. Now part of a Metrograph triple rerelease Éric Rohmer x3, (September 4-17, 2020) with The Aviator's Wife and Boyfriends and Girlfriends. This one pens Friday, September 11 - 8:00pm EST and runs to Sept. 18, 2020.

Metrograph has an online membership program. You join up and pay $5 a month, and for that you can watch any of their online offerings during the period offered.

So, with Metrographs's Rohmer x3, Boyfriends and Girlfrfiends is onlilne Sept. 4-11, 4 Adventures of Reinnette and Mirabelle Sept. 11-18, and The Aviator's Wife Sept. 18-24, 2020. Other films are available at the same time.

©Chris Knipp. Blog:

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