One of the great masters of the French New Wave his no longer with us. Eric Rohmer passed away Monday at the age of 89. Rohmer was known for making movies about young, modern French people who fall in love and talk and talk and talk, spurring the infamous comment that his films were like "watching paint dry." But the secret of Rohmer is that, even though his characters are smart and educated and know a little something about human nature, they can't help themselves from succumbing to feelings of love and lust and jealousy, no matter how many words they use or how often they try to intellectually justify themselves.
That duality worked in almost all of Rohmer's films, which he tended to direct in specific groups. His "Six Moral Tales" is perhaps the most well-regarded, including La Collectionneuse (1967), My Night at Maud's (1969), Claire's Knee (1970) and Love in the Afternoon (1972). The 1980s brought "Comedies and Proverbs," with films like Pauline at the Beach (1983), Le Rayon Vert (1986) -- a Golden Lion winner at the Venice Film Festival -- and Boyfriends and Girlfriends (1987). And in the 1990s, he completed his "Tales of the Four Seasons," including A Summer's Tale (1996) and Autumn Tale (1998). Occasionally, Rohmer ventured into the costume genre, and those films have their admirers as well, notably The Marquise of O (1976), Perceval (1978), The Lady and the Duke (2002), which used new digital technology to place the characters in front of painted backdrops, and his gentle final film The Romance of Astrea and Celadon (2007).
Rohmer -- who took his name from the film director Erich von Stroheim and the writer Sax Rohmer worked as a teacher of literature (much of this experience made its way into his films) and a journalist before he became a film critic and editor of Cahiers du Cinema. There he worked with other future filmmakers like Jean-Luc Godard, Francois Truffaut, Claude Chabrol and Jacques Rivette, and even co-authored an excellent book on Alfred Hitchcock. He made his feature directorial debut in 1959 with Le signe du lion. And followed it with the two short films that would begin the "Six Moral Tales." Rohmer's strategy was that if he announced his films as a series, rather than as individual films, producers and distributors would give him more freedom.
Rohmer arguably achieved his greatest success early on -- including an Oscar nomination for the screenplay of My Night at Maud's -- but he continued to delight and enchant new generations of moviegoers as a regular staple in art houses. He was one of those filmmakers whose works were so similar to one another that they didn't generate as much enthusiasm as they should have. But his body of work as a whole is passionate, personal and truthful enough to stand the test of time.
[Note: in 1962, Rohmer participated in the Sight & Sound poll and submitted the following top ten list, in chronological order: True Heart Susie (1919, D.W. Griffith), The General (1927, Buster Keaton), Sunrise (1927, F.W. Murnau), The Rules of the Game (1939, Jean Renoir), Ivan the Terrible (1943, Sergei Eisenstein), Red River (1948, Howard Hawks), Voyage to Italy (1953, Roberto Rossellini), Vertigo (1958, Alfred Hitchcock), Pickpocket (1959, Robert Bresson), La Pyramide humaine (1959, Jean Rouch)]