Aricie: Les coïncidences, ça existe !
« À Paris, les rendez-vous
Ne sont pas toujours pour vous.
Il y a souvent des surprises,
Il y a parfois des méprises.
Tout cela fait des histoires,
quant au rose quant au noir.
Dur le pavé de Paris, quand on en pleure,
quand on en rit,
quand on en rit... »
The two street musicians who introduce each of the three episodes and conclude the film
“Les rendez-vous de Paris was made during a brief gap after completion of the first two of the ‘Contes des quatre saisons’ series. It was shot quickly with a hand-held camera on the streets of Paris and, for the most part, without official permission. Rohmer’s own comments make it clear that Les rendez-vous was made purely for pleasure, and indeed despite the sombre stories an air of lightness permeates the whole film. ‘Les rendez-vous was something of a rest... But then again, all my films are quite restful.’ The restfulness was no doubt also due to the lack of economic constraint. The film was shot on stock that had been left over from other projects, and the actors agreed to be paid from profits rather than up-front. Rohmer said that with this film, ‘I just enjoyed myself.’ Although these occasional films are different precisely because they are so obviously made for pleasure, and although they play around with genre and style, nevertheless they do have something in common. They are all marked by an exceptionally powerful sense of place. Les rendez-vous often appears to be little more than an advert for the delights of the French capital... We are taken, by turns, to the Latin Quarter, Beaubourg, the Marais and Montparnasse (actually the point can be taken further because Les rendez-vous de Paris can be used as a good guidebook to Paris).”
« Pour Rohmer, un rendez-vous n’a de sens que raté, surtout de justesse. Là est l’ironie un peu sadique et jouissive de l’auteur. Qu’est-ce qu’un rendez-vous ? La marque d’un temps déposée dans un espace. Que cette marque puisse être manquée signifie que l’espace, bien qu’auparavant parcouru de long en large, bien qu’en apparence dominé, en vient au dernier moment à se dérober, laissant le personnage seul, littéralement en plan. C’est le sort des personnages, surtout masculins, des Rendez-vous de Paris. […] Dans ‘Mère et Enfant 1907’, le dernier et de loin le plus beau des trois sketches, sorte de variation malicieuse autour du Vertigo d’Hitchcock, il s’agit pour le personnage du peintre, comme pour Rohmer, de transformer l’anecdote en quête esthétique. […] Avec beaucoup d’intelligence, Rohmer sait utiliser la durée réduite de ses fictions en fonction de l’inaptitude des personnages à adapter leur programme sentimental et sexuel à un espace-temps qui le subordonne – tout en le faisant échouer de justesse. […] Là se situe aussi l’élégance suprême de l’écriture rohmérienne. [...] Avec Rohmer, les histoires les plus courtes sont aussi parfois les meilleures. »
“Actor Serge Renko (‘Lui’) remembers rehearsing for several weeks with Rohmer and actress Aurore Rauscher (‘Elle’) and gives an example of Rohmer’s direction: ‘The bridge over the Saint-Martin canal, for example, was represented by two chairs a metre apart, and we had to play the scene exactly between these two chairs: it was the height of absurdity and theaatricality. Éric doesn’t give you many things to lean on. He throws you into the arena, protected by the text, which is like a straitjacket, but, apart form that, you have incredible freedom. On other shoots, one begins a sentence and completes it two days later because in between there are inserts and reverse-shots. With Rohmer, on the other hand, shooting in continuity, one is really exposed and vulnerable.’
In its experiments with structure and technique, Les rendez-vous de Paris resembles a sketch; while its middle story is a rough draft for Conte d’été’s devices of a man and a woman meeting several times to walk and talk, the third story rehearses Conte d’été’s travelling shots (the crew put the camera in a Citroen 2CV, which they pushed by hand). These travelling shots form the nucleus of this story, satisfying Rohmer’s intention to tell a story in continuity with few ellipses. The three stories of Les rendez-vous possess a tight framework, built around the prominent central device of appointments, meetings and rendezvous, yet separate ideas inspired each story: ‘In the three films, the stories are told in a very different manner, a little like exercises. In the first, there is a very theatrical construction, with several characters, a framework of scenes, entrances and exits. The second is more like a chronicle or a diary. The third is in continuity. In this one, what I was interested in was starting in the middle of the action, and instead of having exposition at the beginning (who is this Swedish woman and why is she here?) have it at the end.’ Around the bare contrivance of the rendezvous, Rohmer arranges coincidences, chance meetings, missed appointments and planned meetings that come to nothing. Each story uses different appointments and each ends with an appointment that fails, a relationship that does not work out and a man alone. All three create suspense about whether someone will turn up for an appointment. As always with Rohmer, seasons and periods play their part, as do locations, with the stories exploiting the expressive potential of public urban spaces: streets, markets, cafés, parks and museums.
As theatre provides the inspiration for the first story, ‘Le Rendez-vous de sept heures,’ it features six characters interacting at cross-purposes in a mini version of a theatrical comedy staged on the streets of Paris. In addition, Esther, Aricie, Horace and Hermione are all names from theatrical tragedies. Rohmer explains: ‘I wanted to give the first film the feeling of being an exercise by students, by young people, who invented a story to amuse themselves by acting it out. I liked this drama-school quality. That was why I gave them first names which came from tragedies by Corneille and Racine. In the first film, I wanted to accentuate the comic quality of Corneille, filming in spaces and choosing a situation which could just about resemble Corneille.’
Like short stories, Rohmer’s two out-of-season films are playful experiments with techniques, though not lesser achievements for that. Both L’Arbre, le maire et la médiathèque and Les rendez-vous de Paris try out forms of construction and foreground their structures: in Les rendez-vous, it is the flagrant use of coincidence. Each of the three stories in the latter film is like a sophisticated game based on a simple idea: theatre, the diary and continuity. Rohmer worked with such a high level of precision that he was able to create something out of almost nothing and Les rendez-vous exhibits a typical Rohmerien paradox: it is a structured film with the feel of an impressionistic documentary. That simplicity is distracting; despite the prominence of its rule-bound form, Les rendez-vous transmits a spirited sense of spontaneous, lived existence.”
“Here, the rendezvous – as a missed or accidental meeting - is both theme and structuring principle and is treated across three short films. Each independent of the other; the films are shot on 16mm with a deliberate anti-professionalism such that, at times, one can hear the sound of the camera’s motor on the soundtrack. This apparently casual shooting strategy includes an emphasis on camera mobility that suits the path-crossings and wanderings of the characters perfectly. Additionally, the predominantly street-based shooting includes moments in which passers-by are caught idly glancing into the lens. So characteristic of the nouvelle vague, such unsolicited eye contact marks Rohmer’s cinema as seeking a kind of continuum between doucmentary and fiction, between the contingent and the structured, as well as retaining something of the charm of its sources in early cinematic technique. Hence French film historian Jean-Pierre Jeancolas's naming of such moments as ‘the Feuillade effect’.
When the nouvelle vague took French cinema out into the streets it did so with a confidence that came partly from its antagonism towards the classical French cinema’s studio-based replications of certain quartiers but that derived equally from an understanding that they drew on the examples of Balzac and the Surrealists as well as on Impressionist painting. Rohmer uses this to his advantage in drawing his characters against the locales through which they move. In the second episode, the reference to a former Surrealist hang-out is not the dusty museological reflex of an antiquarian, it thickens the texture of sexual frustration that drives the philosophy professor to pursue and cajole the woman he desires. The influence of André Breton’s Nadja - the classic Surrealist novel of the city as a labyrinth of eroticised détournement - is played off here against the frozen passion of the lovers in the Medicis fountain of the Jardin du Luxembourg.”
- 1Keith Tester, “The Occasional Films: Scenes of the Ordinary Miracle,” In Film as Theology: Éric Rohmer (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008): 55-56.
The three other “occasional films,” Tester groups Les rendez-vous de Paris with are: Le Signe du Lion (1959), Quatre aventures de Reinette et Mirabelle (1987) and L’Arbre, le maire et la médiathèque (1993).
- 2David Vasse, “Éloge de la forme courte : à propos de Quatre Aventures de Reinette et Mirabelle et des Rendez-vous de Paris,” In Noël Herpe (ed.), Rohmer et les Autres (Rennes: Presses universitaires de Rennes, 2007): 105-111.
- 3Jacob Leigh, The Cinema of Eric Rohmer: Irony, Imagination, and the Social World (New York/London: Continuum, 2012).
- 4Chris Darke, Light Readings: Film Criticism and Screen Arts (London: Wallflower, 2000): 110.