Eric Rohmer Stanley Kauffmann - Essay

Stanley Kauffmann

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

The story [of The Marquise of O …] operates through the enclosure and reconciliation of contradictions: the Marquise's innocence, yet her pregnancy; her parents' belief in her, yet their doubt because of her condition; the Count's act of rescue, yet his act of ravishment….

These contradictions create irony as well as complexity; and if you then add the straightforwardness of style and the sense that both the style and the irony are pushing the whole toward the sources of moral perception, you have a forerunner of Kafka….

So there is an overarching contradiction in Kleist's novella: the paradox that through neoclassic means the beginnings of the modern age are becoming manifest. And thus the comparison of Kleist and Kafka is relevant to the continuing importance of Kleist. Rohmer's central achievement is that he has comprehended all these matters and has fixed them, beautifully, on the screen. (p. 20)

Rohmer has, necessarily, condensed Kleist, but he has served and honored him. He has once again dared to make a chaste film in an age of dazzle, an age in which frankness is dumped on us as an automatic equivalent of truth. Here Rohmer moves even further toward the perfection of his own cinema: of intelligent elegance and elegant intelligence, of pleasurable explicit patterns and implicit tensions, of faith in the value of every carefully selected atom that he shows us. Like all fine artists, he is forging a particular language out of a general lexicon. Like many fine artists, he has the courage not to be accessible to all as long as he is true to an inner music. (p. 21)

Stanley Kauffmann, "Films: 'The Marquise of O …'" (reprinted by permission of Brandt & Brandt Literary Agents, Inc.; copyright © 1976 by Stanley Kauffmann), in The New Republic, Vol. 175, No. 19, November 6, 1979, pp. 20-1.