By LUC MOULLET [MUBI Notebook] — His films have a very simple and clean presentation of actions, often in fixed shot-sequences, a very smooth image, to the point of perfection, with harmonious colors (without being flaunted, however, like Visconti’s) which completely correspond to the rigor of his black and white documentary films. But the visual objectivity of his films is contradicted by their deep subjectivity: [Eric] Rohmer’s viewpoint is sometimes opposed to the viewpoint of the narrators and each of the characters. Often, the viewer knows more than them (Pauline at the Beach) or less than them (My Night at Maud’s). One of Rohmer’s great strengths resides in this constant dialectic between objectivity and subjectivity, and between the clarity of the images and the obscurity of the feelings and actions that avoids any redundancy between “form” and “content.”
The risk of becoming repetitive is, it’s true, very present in a body of work as identical from one end to the other as Eric’s. But the repetition from one film to the next, from one scene to the next, is also a source of interest. It can create a gag, of the slow burn variety (except in Rendezvous in Paris where the reprisal of the same system three times over different stories is aggravating: it’s déjà vu. Also, never see two Rohmer films in a row). The audience expects what it is going to see across various subjects. It’s reassuring. It is not surprising that the least commercial Rohmer films are often his most expensive productions or ones outside of his norm. The Sign of Leo, with its Sartrian overtones and relegation of women to the background, Perceval, based a bit too much on the visual and decorative work and a bit esoteric, The Lady and the Duke, its dubious special effects with their inaccurate scale between the sets and the human beings, and Triple Agent, which substitutes the emotional plot with a police and spy plot – the 84 year old filmmaker’s first genre film, what courage he must have had! But, after all, at this age, Rohmer is maybe less interested in sexual conflicts. And his taste for plotting (one person’s work – in opposition to the conspiracy, the collective plotting preferred by Rivette) is stronger than his taste for the motives that determine the plot and his taste for the alternations of the human heart with which he was perhaps identified with too early. With Fabrice Lucchini, Feodor Atkine and Serge Renko, it is the plot in itself that interests him primarily, with its path as complex as the states of the lovers’ souls in his films.
The problem can be outlined like this: have the outside-the-norm Rohmer films been less commercial because they corresponded less to what the filmmaker is known for, or because they have not been as good? I’ll clarify: less good because more expensive and thus harder to master…
— Translation by Ted Fendt.