Love in the Afternoon (Eric Rohmer / France, 1972):
(L'Amour l'après-midi; Chloe in the Afternoon)

The extended prologue's tempo is derived perhaps from Hitchcock's Rich and Strange, views of bustling Parisian commuters give a documentary flavor but it's really all through the eyes of the young attorney reading Diderot in the train—Eric Rohmer is keen like that. (The subjective pivot is a daydream out of The Seven Year Itch, the protagonist uses an amulet to scoop up the heroines of each of the previous Moral Tales until Béatrice Romand takes him to task.) Fantasies of temptation prove "invigorating to the wandering mind," the middle-class businessman (Bernard Verley) watches the feminine whirl from the safety of the sidewalk café, so securely married to the suburban teacher (Françoise Verley) that flirtations with secretaries and shopgirls become little ego-stroking divertissements. Into his complacent sphere saunters the alluring bohemian of years past (Zouzou), a ginger-tinged irruption of post-'68 impulse and fatigue. The "cordial dislike" of earlier days yields to a slow-motion seduction, his "scrupulous detachment" crumbles subtly over the course of increasingly furtive rendezvous. The married state, the hypothesis of infidelity. "The prospect of quiet happiness stretching infinitely before me depresses me." (Bergman's A Lesson in Love and Kelly's Guide for the Married Man deserve mention indeed.) Rohmer sculpts so finely, registering the texture of a cashmere pullover or cool sunshine harmonies or the quick way a smile follows a lie, that an extra maneuver can charge up the spartan screen: Husband and quasi-mistress embrace in her flat, he lifts the back of her shirt and runs his fingers over her bare back, the camera dollies in while street noises are faintly heard and suddenly it's the most erotic scene of the decade. The conclusion is a man's retreat into domestic safety or a couple's advancement toward balance, what do you see in the mirror? "Since you're so bourgeois, act the part." An acute and quite grave comedy, quivered with electronic chimes and punctuated with Degas nudes, closely studied by Bertrand Blier and Hong Sang-soo. Cinematography by Nestor Almendros.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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