In the second installment of Eric Rohmer’s ‘Comedies and Proverbs’, obsession meets indifference in the form of a young art student (Béatrice Romand) who is determined to leave the bohemian life and marry a successful lawyer (Andre Dussollier). The lawyer, however, has not been informed of her plans.
“‘Can we ever refrain/From building castles in Spain?’ asks the subtitle borrowed from La Fontaine’s Fables for the second in Eric Rohmer’s series of ‘Comédies et Proverbes’. Probably not, but then most of us choose to keep our castles secret in dread anticipation of collapse. About a girl who impulsively decides to marry, picks out a suitable mate in the conviction that he finds her equally eligible, and then suffers agonies of humiliation when she discovers that he does not, Le Beau Mariage (Gala) would be unbearably cruel to watch were it not a Rohmer’s film.
It isn’t just that as usual he flatters the eye with some deceptively anodyne images – wonderful shots of the old town of Le Mans that immediately establish its temper, as others of landscapes glimpsed from moving cars and trains contemplate its geographical, cultural and emotional distance from Paris – while the ear is busily occupied listening to his characters as usual working out their tangential problematics in a non-stop stream of conversation. He also digs deep enough to demonstrate a foundation, laid by instinct rather than artifice, to the castle so airily built by Sabine (Béatrice Romand).”
“As she shuttles between the ancient quarters of Le Mans and a Parisian pied-à-terre, Romand’s heroine continually brushes up against the concrete realities of Rohmer’s environments, and the film builds to a confrontation between Romand and Dussollier in which neither party’s dignity is spared. A conservative male’s judgment of women’s liberation? Perhaps. But A Good Marriage lingers more vividly as the portrait of a woman realizing that her life is not a comedy to be orchestrated, culminating in marriage. The film ends as it began, with Romand on a train, trading glances with a winsome fellow commuter, perhaps finally opening up to a capacious world of everyday coincidence. And maybe now that the comedy is over, life can take its course.”
“Here we find a very Renoir-like tension, which Rohmer cultivated (not without perversity) on the basis of the antagonism between his two actors. On the one hand, André Dussollier, with all his meticulous professionalism that led him to prowl around the site of the filming in advance, the better to imbue himself with the scene to come. Sometimes with a certain stiffness that (if we believe the sound engineer Georges Prat) made him hesitant to accept the somewhat trivial lines at the heart of the long, rambling monologue in which he rejects his admirer: ‘I may see a country house that pleases me enormously. But that’s not a reason to buy it, if for the moment I don’t feel like going to the country.’ In the end, Dussollier faithfully played this passage as it was written and segmented. On the other hand, Béatrice Romand was more the type to rebel. She did not like the constraining aspect of the work, so different from the schoolboy fantasy that presided over the filming of Claire’s Knee. But it was precisely this contrast that Rohmer was secretly trying to bring out: an insolent child among adults, a young woman who embodies her own lived experience playing opposite an experienced theatrical actor. As early as the conversations recorded on tape in his office, he assigned Béatrice this role of a loose cannon. ‘You have an advantage,’ he told her, ‘and that is that you are not a boulevard theater actress. […] You are modern, you’re not at all old-fashioned. You’re inimitable, and that’s what’s interesting.’”
Antoine de Baecque3
- 1. Tom Milne, ‘Sense and Sensibility. Le Beau Mariage’, Sight and Sound 1983 01.
- 2. Lawrence Garcia, ‘Good Men, Good Women: The Actors of Éric Rohmer’s “Comedies and Proverbs”’, MUBI Notebook, 17 Nov 2020.
- 3. Antoine de Baecque, Éric Rohmer: A Biography, 2014, 357.