Bedtime Stories

Eric Rohmer's "Moral Tales" and "Proverbs and Fables"

<i>Claire's Knee</i>
Claire's Knee

In Eric Rohmer's films, there are no camera tricks, no guns, no music. In fact, in Rohmer's films, nothing much happens. But that nothing happens with a gorgeous, sensual languor, as a moral and intellectual gap between his characters and the immediate world around them slowly and silently widens to a yawning chasm.

American critics have often dismissed Rohmer's films as actionless and boring, but the real action in Rohmer is within the minds of his chic, brainy protagonists, and is articulated with what seems at first like self-reflexive awareness and then turns out to be egotistical self-delusion. Although Rohmer is considered one of the seminal directors of the French New Wave, his work presents a stark contrast to that of his colleagues in its stylistic minimalism. Reflections of Rohmer's cultured hipsters caught in endless conversation can be seen in the work of directors as diverse as Louis Malle and Hal Hartley.

Throughout September and October, the Austin Film Society will present "Love and Morality," a retrospective of selections from the two film cycles that make up most of Rohmer's output: the "Moral Tales" and the "Proverbs and Fables." Both cycles feature characters struggling with moral issues, but in the later "Proverbs and Fables" the characters are generally younger and less self-aware. Among the stylistically similar works (the exception being 1976's period piece The Marquise of O, which screens Oct. 9), highlights include Rohmer's breakthrough feature (and the inspiration for Malle's My Dinner with André), My Night at Maud's (originally scheduled to screen Sept. 11 and to be rescheduled at a later date) -- which consists mostly of the conversation its two characters, a thoughtful young Catholic and a sultry divorcée, carry on in lieu of having sex -- and La Collectionneuse (screening Sept. 18), a stunning film in which the lazy smugness of three sunburned bohemians is laid like a flimsy beach towel over a slowly mounting surge of sexual tension and emotional violence. Though Rohmer is an ethicist (and a Roman Catholic), he's also one of the cinema's great sensualists; in La Collectionneuse, as well as in the moral tale Claire's Knee (screening Sept. 25), he contrasts the indolent smarm of his protagonists with the feverish beauty of the natural world in which they are immersed.

This erudite sensuality (Pauline Kael called him "a specialist in the eroticism of non-sexual affairs"), as well as the dogged calmness of his gaze, is the chief attraction to Rohmer's art. Though fans of cinematic bombast might be put off by Rohmer's deliberate pacing and delicate tensions, for film lovers these free showings offer the chance to submerge themselves in carefully crafted films of lavish slowness and luxurious subtlety.

The AFS series "Love and Morality: The Films of Eric Rohmer" screens Tuesday nights, 7:30pm, at the Arbor Theatre, 10000 Research Blvd., through October. Admission is free. Call 322-0145 or visit for more information.

Note: My Night at Maud's, originally scheduled for Sept. 11, will be rescheduled at a later date.

Sept. 18 La Collectionneuse

Sept. 25 Claire's Knee

Oct. 2 Chloe in the Afternoon

Oct. 9 The Marquise of O ...

Oct. 16 The Aviator's Wife

Oct. 23 Summer

Oct. 30 Boyfriends and Girlfirends

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