Eric Rohmer Peter Sourian

Start Your Free Trial

Download Eric Rohmer Study Guide

Subscribe Now

Peter Sourian

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Rohmer takes Pascal's Pensées for his text. According to Pascal we meet our sense of the void with nausea, ennui, anxiety: "All our unhappiness stems from the fact that we are incapable of sitting quietly by ourselves in a room." (pp. 132-33)

[In Chloe in the Afternoon, Chloe is, for Frédéric] the inauthentic diversion from mortality and from eternity, as represented by his marriage and embodied by his children. For Frédéric, like many, fears the happiness of fulfillment; he tells us that he dreams madly of a life made of "first loves", that is to say—though he doesn't realize this—a life without death. In a stunning parade of impersonations, which Rohmer makes the most of visually, Chloe sees him in the afternoons, subtly giving him his wish, this safe feeling of constant newness, while his wife works on her graduate thesis. Like a knight in a mediaeval temptation he resists Chloe, yet is in thrall [until he realizes his mistake and returns to his wife.] (p. 133)

It is through the power of the human mind (operative even here, in such a trivial association) that Frédéric has finally managed to dare to replace an "inauthentic diversion" with a "true object of belief and love".

In Claire's Knee the inauthentic diversion would appear to be Claire's knee, an object of belief and love which Pascal would surely term a false one. Jerome,… engaged to be married, becomes obsessed by the knee of a young girl. But the film actually is concerned with the brilliant secret efforts of an entirely different person to cure herself of her fascination with the silly and cruel Jerome, who is her Claire's knee, her false object. Aurora is a gifted Romanian novelist who, cleverly encouraging Jerome to tell her step-by-step of how he cured himself of his obsession by literally touching Claire's knee, figuratively touches Jerome, proves to herself just how silly and cruel he is. This complex intellectual work which Rohmer forces us to follow with our own intellects thus releases her for marriage to a man whom she'd objectively respected deeply but from whom she'd been running.

Strong as these films are, they are not as strong as My Night At Maude's…. [In this film the] time is the present and the visible protagonists are flesh-and-blood, but no less alive for Rohmer is the mind of the great scientist and philosopher [Pascal], whose religious ideology systematically ordains the progress of this remarkably intellectual film. (pp. 133-34)

[Upon analyzing Jean-Louis's and Vidal's philosophical discussion, we] can understand why Jean-Louis would not find Jansenism attractive, and why Vidal might imagine himself a bit of a Jansenist. But if we observe carefully, Vidal's intense talk, brilliant and passionate, may be desperate bombast. And if we look carefully at the face of Jean-Louis, seeing a man who rather likes to indulge himself, we may also simultaneously see a man undergoing some deep process of difficult change, about to emerge in the breadth and light, or at least terrifiedly on the brink of it. (p. 136)

If Jean-Louis is "furious at Pascal's rigidity," it's because he may be about to find himself living it for the rest of his life. If Vidal is fascinated by it, it may be because it's academic for him, only a diversion from his real anguish. (p. 137)

Maude and Jean-Louis are not really in agreement at all [in their attitudes towards people]. Maude's become tired of seeing the same faces so she's looking for new ones. Jean-Louis draws a different conclusion from the same experience. He's learned that there are no "new" people. So, having experienced Pascal's stage of the flesh for what it's worth, he is now embarking perilously, purposefully, on a different endeavor.

Vidal, who is of the order of mind , is playing intellectual games with himself. He fancies he is suffering terribly over Maude's relative indifference. In fact, one of the three Misleading Powers as distinguished by Pascal, that of the Imagination, is hard at work in him (the other two being...

(The entire section is 1,215 words.)