Tuesday Editor’s Pick: Le Rayon Vert (1986)

by on June 13, 2011Posted in: Editor's Pick

Playing Tue Jun 14 at 4:30, 6:50, 9:15; Wed Jun 15 at 6:50, 9:15 at BAMcinématek [Program & Tix]


BAMcinématek assitant curator Jake Perlin rolls out another fabulous revival through his distribution company The Film Desk, the late Eric Rohmer’s Le Rayon Vert (originally released in the States as the more vaguely marketable Summer). And stay tuned for another Film Desk new print of a Rohmer rarity: Four Adventures of Reinette and Mirabelle runs at BAM July 20-26.


Geoff Andrew summons you to this lovely film for Time Out London:

It’s July, and Delphine, a young Parisian secretary, is suddenly at a loss regarding her holiday; a friend has just backed out of a trip to Greece, her other companions have boyfriends, and Delphine can’t bear spending August in Paris. She also hopes to find a dream lover, but receives only the unwelcome attentions of pushy predators, until… There’s a whiff of fairytale to this particular slice of realism à la Rohmer, but what’s perhaps most  remarkable is that the film was almost completely improvised; though not so as you’d know it. It’s as flawlessly constructed, shot and performed as ever, with France’s greatest living director effortlessly evoking the morose moods of holidaying alone among crowds, and revelling in the particulars of place, weather and time of day. Deceptively simple, the film oozes honesty and spontaneity; the word, quite bluntly, is masterpiece.




Charles Taylor for Salon:

Audiences didn’t turn out for Summer, although, along with My Night at Maud’s, the movie is one of Rohmer’s masterpieces. It is also, in its small, stubborn way, one of the bravest movies I know.


Unusually for Rohmer, Summer was largely improvised by Riviere and the other actors. (That leads to a few real gems of scenes, like one where an old confirmed Parisian insists that walking along the Seine is as good as going to the seaside.) Through much of the movie, we are given the privilege of watching someone behave as she does when she is at her least self-conscious and most characteristic. And the brilliant Riviere is so fully inside this maddening woman that we don’t react as if we’re watching an actress but as if she were Delphine. That may be why some people are so irritated by her that they can barely watch the movie. And also why others look at her and think, “My God, that’s me.”


Linda C. Ehrlich pays tribute at Senses of Cinema:

Le rayon vert. Small heroics of a young woman who wills herself to see. No longer just looking on, no longer just overhearing others. For her, this is a revolutionary act.


Delphine (Marie Rivière) is a secretary in Paris–a job of little importance to her or to anyone else. Abandoned by her friend Caroline who was supposed to take the official two-week vacation in July with her, Delphine agonizes over how she can take a vacation alone. Where should she go? What if she meets someone she used to know? What if she doesn’t?


Everyone offers Delphine advice, all of it wrong. One family suggests camping in Ireland; Delphine wants the heat. A friend suggests visiting Spain. “I’m not the adverturesome type.” Picking up a playing card caught in a crack in the pavement, she turns it over to see a Tarot card of the Queen of Spades, a bad omen.


As in all of his ‘Comédies et proverbes’ (‘Comedies and Proverbs”, 1980-87), Eric Rohmer takes his time to let his characters tell their own story. ‘What I say, I do not say with words. I do not say it with images either…I show. I show people who move and speak. That is all I know how to do, but that is my true subject.’


Roger Ebert:

If Eric Rohmer were basing a film on your diary, he would only use the entries where you observe that nothing much happened. He is interested in the times between the big moments, the times when boredom and disenchantment set in, and we search for signs and omens of change.


Perhaps he believes that you can best judge a person’s character by observing how they behave when they feel they are not being judged.


In Summer, Rohmer tells the story of Delphine, a discontented young woman who has just broken up with her boyfriend. She lives in Paris, which empties every August as the Parisians stage a mass exodus to the mountains or the seashore. She makes plans to spend her holiday with a girlfriend, but then, at the last moment, the girlfriend switches plans and Delphine is left to spend her vacation by herself.


The movie is about what she does.


Rohmer takes a whole story – a love story, say – and leaves out the beginning and the end because those are always the same. He looks at what’s left, and takes the part that reveals the most character. Then he makes a movie about that. He’s like a photographer who frames only the part of the shot that interests him. Remember Claire’s Knee, which was, in a certain sense, really and literally about Claire’s knee? Summer could be called “Delphine’s Sigh.”



Vincent Canby for The New York Times:

For all her whims and ways, and for all the trouble she causes her friends, Delphine is very good company. Much like Delphine, Summer initially seems slight, but it’s a movie of uncommon sensitivity and emotional reserves. Delphine is no great philosopher. Yet she’s a woman who uses her mind, if only, sometimes, to go in self-searching circles. As played by Miss Riviere, she’s funny, gallant, irritating and terrifically romantic.


Delphine is the archetypal Rohmer heroine, a character who could exist only in a film. She’s a remarkable, collaborative composition of the director’s vision, the actress’s personality, the settings through which she moves and the sounds she hears, which, in addition to the words (not always kind) of her friends, include street noises, music, the passing of the occasional airplane, birds, even the wind in the trees.


People who say Mr. Rohmer’s films aren’t cinematic, because of the great amounts of dialogue they contain, simply aren’t attending to the complete work. His dialogue is immensely important but, by itself, it doesn’t add up to much. It’s not epigramatic.


In Summer, particularly, it tends to wander, then to turn back on itself. It’s full of non-sequiturs and of thoughts that just hang there, unfinished and forlorn, like Delphine when her self-assurance suddenly crumbles. However, unlike the dialogue of any other film maker, Mr. Rohmer’s charts the course of characters who possess believable interior lives.


Andrew Sarris’s original review in The Village Voice (not available online):

One could say, if one were so inclined, that Summer us ideal end-of-summer entertainment. It is often funny, but in a way that makes it hurt too much to laugh. I started smiling when Delphine very solemnly explains to her meat-serving hosts why she is a vegetarian who cannot bear to eat living things, to, but not in her ridiculously ungracious polemic against her unyieldingly friendly hosts. I could see her lonely past and lonely future converging in a moment of explosive psychological revelation.


Yes, Summer is funny in a dark way: and you do want to reach up to the screen and shake some sense into the girl, But then, for me at least, comes a gleam of self-recognition, and Delphine magically becomes as irritatingly universal as Hamlet or Hedda Gabler. Summer is a singularly ennobling episode in the history of cinema. And in terms of the bloated budgets of the so-called motion picture industry, this beauty has simply walked out of the water and onto the beach like a Botticelli Venus.


David F. Coursen on the cathartic ending, also for Senses of Cinema:

My favorite moment in Rohmer comes at the end of Le rayon vert, the title referring to a phenomenon that sometimes appears at the very end of summer sunsets and supposedly brings good luck. This one appears to the film’s frazzled central character, who has been earnestly struggling through the film to get comfortable in her physical and social setting, and in her own identity; most painfully, for a Rohmer character, she has also been struggling to make herself understood, to find words to explain herself satisfactorily during the film’s myriad conversations. It has been getting harder to avoid viewing her as a self-absorbed ninny, so obsessive, perfectionist, judgmental, and—insofar as Rohmer allows for such things—abrasive that she brings on her social unease. But then, when her earnest hope to see the green ray is finally realised, the effect is almost magical, and she inexplicably achieves what Catholics might call a state of grace; the ray’s appearance provides a tangible, objective reflection and validation of the strength and sincerity of her desire to see it. It doesn’t do much for her self-awareness, bringing nothing like the kind of epiphany that we typically expect to accompany transcendent moments. But in Rohmer, a moment of enchantment and vindication will suffice.


The moment is only slightly less cathartic for the audience, leading us to take another look and give another thought, to what we have been seeing and how we have been responding to it. And we finally, inexplicably, succumb, warming to a character we have all along been wanting to like.


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