Le Signe du Lion (Eric Rohmer / France, 1959):

While his New Wave colleagues were working up dozens of cinematic fireballs in their respective 1959 debuts, Eric Rohmer was aiming for a hundred tiny match flares instead. Summer is the filmmaker's first season (Paris in August), his Lucky Pierre is an American moocher (Jess Hahn) with a half-finished sonata, disdain for aesthetes who don’t know how to drink, and news of an incoming inheritance. "I’ve always believed more in my luck than in my talent," he confesses to a chum in the middle of a nocturnal soiree, where a knack for picking up incisive curlicues of emotional data is already evident as characters drift in and out of apartment rooms. (Bonus: Taking a break from shooting Breathless, Godard turns up by a Victrola for a deadpan gag.) The bohemian and the cosmic promptly collide as the musician in a fit of bravado leans out the window and shoots his rifle into the starry skies. Astrology ("the most ancient of sciences") works in mysterious ways, and, when the fortune doesn’t come, Hahn is reduced to a literally starving artist, dodging hotel concierges, selling his possessions for coins, spending nights on park benches, filching from fruit stands. As the dilapidated figure wanders through the sweltering city, he notices the concrete walls encircling the Latin Quarter sidewalk cafés: A descent out of Zola and Hamsun, the "mortal silence" that could crumble any of Rohmer’s loquacious future protagonists into dust. One type of theater gives way to another with the arrival of the razzing, bowler-hatted vagrant (Jean Le Poulain), which is where Renoir’s Boudu meets Beckett’s Estragon as fate and chance wrestle over the rake’s progress. Sturges is the punchline’s chief tributary (Christmas in July), just the finish for a portrait of wry grace told under blasting sunlight and heavenly constellations. With Michèle Girardon, Van Doude, Paul Bisciglia, Christian Alers, and Stéphane Audran. In black and white.

--- Fernando F. Croce

Back to Reviews
Back Home