Eric Rohmer Introduction

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(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Eric Rohmer 1920–

(Pseudonym of Jean Marie Maurice Scherer) French director, screenwriter, television producer, and film critic.

Rohmer, a nouvelle vague (new wave) director, is best known for his contes moraux (Six Moral Tales), each of which develop the same situation: a man is tempted by an alluring female after deciding on moral grounds to avoid a sexual relationship. Rohmer says of these films: "What I call a conte moral is not a tale with a moral, but a story which deals less with what people do than with what is going on in their minds while they are doing it…."

In 1951, Rohmer became a critic for Les Cahiers du Cinéma, where he associated with the group of critics who became New Wave filmmakers, including Alain Resnais, Jean-Luc Godard, François Truffaut, and Claude Chabrol. He also coauthored a book with Chabrol on Alfred Hitchcock. Before his venture into fictional cinema, Rohmer made a series of educational biographical films.

Rohmer's first full-length feature, Le Signe du lion, was a commercial failure. The first two contes, La Boulangere de Monceau and La Carrière de Suzanne were short subjects, followed by La Collectionneuse. While agreeing that Rohmer's filmmaking talent is evident, most critics found the characters too corrupt to elicit their sympathies.

Ma Nuit chez Maud met with instant international acclaim, however, and Rohmer emerged as a major figure in French film. Le Genou de Claire and L'Amour, L'Après-Midi also received critical acclaim for Rohmer's understated way of dealing with his familiar moral dilemmas. His protagonists, who fend off their seductresses with protestations of moral seriousness are, in Rohmer's eyes, merely complacent rather than moral. They engage in endless philosophical discussions that resolve little. The series served as well to demonstrate Rohmer's belief that the director is an author, making his films a form of visual fiction. Narration is used frequently, and literary images, such as the novels in Claire, abound, reinforcing Rohmer's concept.

His two recent films, Die Marquise von O … and Perceval, are period pieces, attempting to recreate a mood rather than make a statement. Though well received for the most part, they have not made the same impact as the contes moraux.