Pauline a la plage

(Pauline at the Beach, France - 1983)

by Mike Lorefice

Cast: Amanda Langlet, Arielle Dombasle, Feodor Atkine, Simon de La Brosse, Rosette
Genre: Drama/Romance
Director: Eric Rohmer
Screenplay: Eric Rohmer
Cinematography: Nester Almendros
Composer: Jean-Louis Valero

Things come easy for some people, but people rarely make things easy for themselves. 14-year-old Pauline (Amanda Langlet) and her older, recently divorced cousin Marion (Arielle Dombasle) plan to close out the summer with a few relaxing weeks at a seaside cottage. Pauline is just looking for some people her age to hang around with; boys, girls, it doesn’t matter as she’ll have some fun, but probably never see them again. Arriving so late in the vacation season, most of the teens have returned home. Lacking alternatives, Pauline winds up hanging around with Marion, Marion’s old boyfriend Pierre (Pascal Greggory) who is still in love with her though she married 5-years-ago, and Pierre’s acquaintance Henri (Feodor Atkine) who never denies himself a looker.

The three main adults are classic Eric Rohmer types. Marion is the indecisive woman, Henri the unreliable man, and Pierre is blinded by the certainty of his desires, though each share these characteristics to a certain extent. Marion says love can’t be forced and claims to be waiting for reciprocal love at first sight. However, she hops into bed with Henri the first night she knows him and spends the rest of her vacation expending much energy trying to will him to love her and convince herself and others he does. Henri is a charming, confident, opportunistic womanizer who lives in the minute, rejecting commitment. There’s no passion or intensity to his lifestyle, but he makes sure he has fun today while scouting a woman for tomorrow.

Pierre is earnest, but humorless and moody, caring too much for his own good, while others care too little. Pierre seems more jealous, possessive, and controlling than he actually is. He’s a good hearted friend who cares enough to try to talk you out of setting yourself up for a big fall, but he does so in an off putting confrontational manner, lacking the finesse to put across to Marion that Henri will screw her and move on. The third entry in the Comedy & Proverbs series, the second best next to Summer, is based on the proverb “he who talks too much will hurt himself”, which is most true of Pierre whose words have the opposite effect on Marion. She tells him, “Listen Pierre, the more you knock him, the more interesting he gets” and with each protest Marion only works harder to delude herself that she not only loves Henri, but also that Henri loves her. Pierre’s misreading that leads him to declare his love the first evening they’ve seen each other in years is probably much of what drives Marion to spend the night with Henri.

Rohmer’s characters are always self-centered and absorbed, so the more people that become involved, the more impossible the situation becomes as each individuals desires are just that. They rarely match someone else’s, and in failing to live with that, often in striving to control others, his characters constantly bang their head against the wall. The interactions between them grow increasingly tense, as everyone knows how to enlighten one another, and thus solve their problems. They believe they are detached and of pure motive, but whether directly or in a covert manner they are always talking about themselves, and really are trying to convince the listener how they should act toward them, usually that they should love them.

The stories Eric Rohmer writes are designed to say something about humanity by exploring the morality of his characters without making any judgments on them. Each character has philosophical and moral concepts, principles, they attempt to live by, but they don’t have the unrealistic strength and willpower of most movie heroes. Thus, in uttering their longings and beliefs they wind up seeming even more hypocritical than they are, as even your own ideals are difficult to live up to.

Pauline barely speaks to the adults initially, but becomes the centerpiece of the group by not joining in their angling, posturing, and lying, which she finds disdainful. A normal film would simply be her coming of age story, but while she quickly loses her virginity to her first boyfriend Sylvain (Simon de La Brosse), a teenager who pursues her, Rohmer is disinterested in the defining moments that are the backbone of commercial movies. It’s difficult to make a Rohmer film sound exciting, as they are almost random segments of a life that has existed and will continue to rather than the usual movies that pretend to provide the be all and end all of someone’s existence. Solution is never the goal of a Rohmer film, as the characters are likely to have similar problems throughout their lives. His films are about those difficulties, of which love is first and foremost due to being so personal yet revolving completely around someone else whether or not they choose it to.

Rohmer doesn’t believe people can drastically change who they are. His films are often based upon a decision that seems obvious to the audience, in this case Marion and Pierre reuniting because they are fairly similar and looking for the same kind of love, but Rohmer will deny these choices because his characters are who they are. Marion won’t choose Pierre for the very reasons she should, she can’t love or be happy with someone who reciprocates to an equal or especially greater extent; she found that out from her husband who was enough like Pierre. Things would be simple if she could find a way to reconcile her principles with her actions, but instead she’s stuck in a holding pattern of claiming she needs equality but actually losing interest once she finds it and instead chasing after someone she has to manipulate into love.

Rohmer’s films are an unextraordinary experience that gains the character(s) a bit of wisdom about themselves that leads them to a choice. It may even be the one they planned from the start. In My Life at Maud’s, Jean-Louis simply learns his heart is with Francoise, who he only knows from watching her in church, so he’s not interested in a one-night stand with Maud even though he discovers she’s interesting and appealing. He may have made Francoise’s acquaintance at some point, but it takes Maud to prompt his decision to force the meeting.

Pauline at the Beach is a test for Pauline. She is interested in the deeper aspects rather than the superficial ones, and believes “you must know people to love them.” She seems steadfast and resolute, but can she maintain her principles and clear-eyed vision as she matures, be open and honest in love, or does lust rob us of this? Her vacation makes her realize it’s time to mature, but the question is how to go about it. Her would be guides, the adults, are narcissistic, selfish, hypocritical, wavering liars whose dialogue tends to be making usually veiled excuses for themselves. They aren’t too discrete about their conquests yet still try to hide them from others.

The centerpiece of the film is a mistaken identity scene where both Marion and Pierre see the candy peddler Louisette (Rosette) at Henri’s, but rather than fess up that he had sex with her he sets Sylvain up. Though Rohmer often shows a character crushed by their love for another going awry, being betrayed or jilted, they aren’t being ridiculed by him or hurt for the sake of it. People invariably make quick decisions whose consequences are unknown. Sylvain can’t guess helping Henri will cost him Pauline, as it shows her he lacks her resolve. He’s willingly involved himself in the deception of Marion, who shows up unannounced, but he’s trying to be a friend to Henri, and perhaps protect Marion in a way as well. This same impulsiveness will do everyone in sooner or later, for Sylvain it just happens to be the former as what Pauline liked was his straightforwardness and honesty; he was forthright and thus understandable to her. Now she realizes he’s not different from the cowardly adults who play their conniving games, just less polished due to being young and inexperienced.

Eric Rohmer’s dialogue is never plot oriented, it’s not “factual” but rather reveals the interiors of the characters, their heart and mind, what they seek and value. Though Rohmer is first and foremost known for the intelligence and poetry of his discourse, he actually isn’t a director that says; he instead shows. He first wrote the Six Moral Tales (The Bakery Girl of Monceau, Suzanne's Career, My Night at Maud's, The Collector, Claire's Knee, & Chloe in the Afternoon) as a book, but found them to be incomplete, as we need the camera to see how their exterior exposes, and thus contradicts, their interior, how they are at war with themselves and betray their own ideals. The audience comes to an understanding through matching the alternately deceitful and soul revealing dialogue with their body language and actions. The other characters see bits and pieces, never enough to know the full truth. For them it often comes down to self-preservation. In order to retain their pride they force themselves to believe what suits them, in Marion’s case that Henri wasn’t cheating on her with Louisette. She has the greatest misconception of reality, but it puts her mind at ease and in the end it maintaining a positive image of herself that makes her personality more appealing than perpetually moping Delphine in Summer.

Rohmer shows your own perception is more important than whatever the reality is, as even though hope tends to prove false and pain real, we are still resilient, delusional, and dishonest enough to define a certain reality in our favor. Others may not buy into it, but in Rohmer everything is individual. The characters are self absorbed to the point they are oblivious to everyone else, and could often just as easily be talking about themselves to themselves. Their desires and predicaments are personal, leaving everyone else on the outside even when they are involved. This is why every person brings and increased complication, as there’s more and more overlapping strands, more yearnings to deal with and expectations to be shattered, most of which are unbeknownst to the characters as they’re too lost inside themselves to realize.



* Copyright 2008 - Raging Bull Movie Reviews *