Rohmer’s Style

As regards content, the persistence of certain key antinomies structuring all his work has already been noted [this is from the Conclusion of the book]. While these originate in an underlying opposition between the temporal and the eternal, the human and the divine, the material and the spiritual, they are realized in a variety of recurrent forms: appetite versus austerity, self-indulgence versus self-denial, artifice versus nature, betrayal versus fidelity, reason versus faith, fragmentation versus unity, part versus whole. In various ways the abstract visual parameters available to filmmaketers (inside/outside, up/down, center/periphery, as well as black/white and color oppositions) are emplyed to give form to these antinomies. The result is a thematic recurrence of contrasts between mountain and valley, city and country, Paris and the provinces, day and night.

The narrative structure within which these oppositions are realized is usually overtly or covertly circular, with an extensive central element constituting a “digression” or hole in time through which the temptation of the temporal intrudes. The digression will seem to promise escape from a trap which the protagonist feels closing around him or her, but will come to be seen rather as itself a trap from which the protagonist must escape–hence the circularity. In the course of closing the circle, a threatened distortion or inversion of the “natural” order of things will be corrected. (106)

…the narrative chain is not segmented into the ceaseless shot/reverse-shot clusters that are typical of psychological editing. There is little recourse to the “informative” close-ups of face, hand or object which standard filmmaking employs in order to “orient” the spectator and avoid any indecision or ambiguity.

This avoidance of the two more sophisticated sets of editing practice is characteristic of the technical discretion of Rohmer’s films. In fact, the avoidance of such “normal” practices as film music, optical punctuation, expressive camera angles, and most tracking shots is at times so marked as to register as itself a form of aggressive technical experimentation. Cumulatively, these absent techniques would have served to structure the spectator’s response to the profilmic material, and the contemporary spectator is accustomed to expect such subconscious orientation. Its absence serves to endow that profilmic material, in the spectator’s eyes, with something or the same ambiguity and indeterminacy which it holds for the central protagonist, who, craving certainty yet trapped in endless conjecture, is finally constrained to an act of largely irrational commitment, of faith.

[…] The reason is simple: Rohmer associates with his enigmas neither the plot elements (threat, deadlines, intercutting) nor the technical practices (close-ups, expressive editing, expressionist lighting) which construct suspense in mysteries and thrillers. This avoidance of the viewer manipulation inherent in dramatic narratives is perhaps the strongest evidence supporting Rohmer’s claim to be producing both a moral and a realist cinema. (108)

Crisp, C. G. Eric Rohmer, Realist and Moralist. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1988.