While I love Pauline at the Beach, it does seem that Rohmer works best with 20something French yuppies. Interestingly, this is a change of pace itself from the last three Rohmer films I’ve reviewed in that it’s actually a “city” film. I’d say the distinction isn’t that important, but the filmmaker himself seems to be toying with the idea that setting matters. In a way, he has remade Murnau’s City Girl, where we’re to believe that life is hard regardless of where you are. City life is tough, but the rural isn’t some romantic dream world. There’s no farm here, but there is a nice and quiet suburbs which are contrasted against the streets of Paris.
Louise is an interior decorator working in Paris, but living with Remi, her boyfriend, in the suburbs. Their apartment, located right next to the train station, is ideal for Remi: there’s plenty of tennis courts nearby. It’s a nice situation for Louise, but she wants another living arrangement, not to replace what she has with Remi but to coexist with it. She takes up in a city apartment she’s in the process of redecorating to be closer to the city. There, she has more freedom to access the nightlife with her friend, Octave, who while thinking of himself as a cold intellectual, is actually completely infatuated with Louise. While her adventurous lifestyle suggest that Remi has reasons to worry, it’s Louise who begins to suspect he is the one being unfaithful.
There’s an immediate point of interest here in that it is Rohmer doing a “city film” and of course, this holds even more gravitas when the city is Paris. While the photography looks slightly different (it’s a lot more blue!) the filmmaker’s style doesn’t seem to be modified in any remarkable fashion. This actually furthers the playful manner in which the filmmaker handles the suburban/urban dichotomy that is present here. We begin to see that the difference is not exactly superficial, but one that is dramatized by the fact that the two function as binary oppositions. Louise herself perfectly sums up what it is that draws her to both spaces, “When I’m in one I want to be in the other.”
Her desire to live within multiple spaces is easy to understand: while Rohmer never gives us an actual number, it is easy to see Louise as younger than Remi. She’s recently graduated from school, and still wants to have the freedom that comes being a young woman in the city. Remi, on the other hand, has progressed further along in his work and he’s more than fine with settling down to a life in the suburbs, where he can be close to his tennis courts and see the countryside. The previous paragraph might suggest that the differences between the two spaces are exaggerated, but in reality, these still represent something to both Louise and Remi. Louise could still go to her parties in the city while just living in the suburbs, but it’s not as practical and it would drive Remi crazy, which is exactly what ends up happening anyway.
The Louise and Remi relationship is on shaky ground from the film’s opening. She tells him she’s going to spend the night in Paris for a party, he’s upset and tries to talk her out of it. The two share some tenderness but their goodbyes seem ambivalent. Remi shows up for this party and stays for hardly a minute, and he can’t leave without contributing to Louise breaking down in tears. There’s nothing in the film that makes us actively root for this relationship to work. They have their moments, but Remi’s behavior seems like it could become violent at any moment. Indeed, at one point he begins punching himself, which certainly isn’t the worst thing he could do, but his behavior is frightening none the less. It seems the less time the two spend together, the more accepting the audience is that they’re trying to make it work. It makes sense in real life, as plenty of relationships are dragged out by participants refusing to communicate their feelings.
As odd as it sounds, Rohmer has almost made something of a Hitchcock thriller here. I mean, all the trappings of the genre are obviously absent, but there’s something in how he constructs the story here that feels like a calculated suspense story. After all, suspicions of Remi’s affair has a red herring (Camille) and the woman he ends up in love with, Marianne, functions dramatically speaking, as Chekhov’s gun. It seems cruel to reduce characters to plot devices, and would almost definitely seem like a critique of such a character-driven filmmaker like Rohmer, but it works for whatever reason here. Louise is the character we’re invested in anyway, which makes the film’s finale almost as confusing as it is heartbreaking.
Louise cheats on Remi with Bastien, a young saxophone player who’s only in Paris temporarily. In their night together, Louise gets to experience what she wants out of Paris: freedom and the chance at a purely physical relationship, something she has admitted to never having earlier on in the film. The morning after, she leaves Bastien quietly and returns to her apartment in the suburbs to find it completely empty. There’s something suspenseful about the sequence, and it is one of the most impressively photographed moments in Rohmer’s entire career. Remi arrives later and confesses that he too was cheating on Louise. Initially, she does not mind it and explains that they were both with “unimportant” people the night before. Remi explains that he’s in love with Marianne, though. This ends the relationship as well as the film.
The ending here seems difficult to read and understand. One could see it as Rohmer shaming Louise putting her own freedom ahead of her relationship and thus, not realizing how important it was until she lost it. This is the most conservative reading of the ending, and not particularly interesting. Another suggest that she’s escaped a life of suburban imprisonment. Neither reading fits with how the ending feels. It’s heartbreaking, even as Remi sympathetically suggests that they make each other miserable and they’ll be better off separated. This seems logical and it’s everything the film has been pointed towards since its starts. Still, to Louise and to us, it is incredibly jarring and stings. She enjoyed the safety of the relationship, even as she wasn’t willing to commit entirely to it. One can’t blame her for wanting stability and freedom, just as one can’t blame Remi for falling in love with someone who embraces him. It’s an ending that’s difficult to pin down and make definite statements about, but sometimes that’s how relationships work out.