“Pauline at the Beach” (Pauline à la plage), was one of the first movies which showed me a different kind of film to what Hollywood made. The others being “Stolen Kisses” (Baisers volés) and “One plus one”. (More on those another day.)
In “Pauline at the beach”, a teenage girl (Amanda Langelet) spends her summer holiday with her, fairly hot, aunt (Arielle Dombasle) at a northern French seaside resort. During their stay, they get mixed up in various amorous entanglements. Pauline already knew that love was complicated. Here, she learns that grown-ups act quite contradictory to their words.
At the time, being about the same age as the two teenagers in the film made it easy to understand what they were experiencing, even though the themes of love and relationships got quite complicated. In fact, the teenagers in the movie were quite smart, despite their limited understanding of the complexities. Sometimes it’s just about knowing what the right thing to do really is. No matter what your age.
Rohmer’s film never talks down to the teenage characters. Most films have some supposedly wiser, older person say “When you get to my age you’ll understand…”, or “It’s all not as simple as you imagine…you’ll learn”. Those statements have some truth and in fact the oldest character says something similar. However, the kids see through the bullshit and know when the adults are just being phony and using those pat phrases as excuses for their own bad behaviour. Click continue for the trailer.
“Pauline at the beach” is one of Eric Rhomer’s most accomplished films. It is like many of his movies, deceivingly simple on the surface. His characters slowly reveal their complexity through contradictory behaviour. That’s what makes them so human. I don’t mean the general statement about “flawed” characters being interesting. There’s much more going on here, but it is difficult to capture.
The characters move from trivial chit-chat to philosophical coversations on love and relationships. This movie concentrates on the merry-go-round of affairs between people. He shows the highs and lows. The joy and the frustration.
The simplicity misleads one into thinking it is trivial. The moment you pay attention to what is happening and listen to the dialogues, which go far deeper, you realise there is much food for thought here.
This is one of the problems with Rohmers movies. Most of his fans find it very difficult to explain exactly what it is which fascinates them. So maybe I should just quote the most unexpected fan of Rohmer’s, Quentin Tarantino, who is quoted to have said that you should just check out Rohmer’s films and see whether you like them. If you like one, there’s a good chance you will like others too.
Rohmer’s Oscar nominated “My Night with Maude” is more static and philosophical. It’s good, but you may find it dry. In fact, there’s a notorious quote from a Gene Hackman movie called “Night Moves”. He describes “My Night with Maude” as “like watching paint dry”. However, when he says that his character is bitter. His neglected and estranged wife has gone to watch the Rohmer movie with her lover…it’s almost something that could happen in a Rohmer movie (I’m thinking of “The Aviator’s Wife”).
Anyway, I suggest most people start with “Pauline at the Beach” or “A Summer’s Tale” (Conte d’ete).
Question: Which Rohmer movie would you suggest to “first timers”? Leave a reply below.