Adrien, an artist (Patrick Bauchau), and Martin (Daniel Pommereulle), an antique dealer, are spending the summer in a house just outside St Tropez. Also staying there is Haydée, a young woman who seems to sleep with a different boy every night. She is a "collectionneuse", collecting men as other people collect artworks. In their different ways, both older men try to resist becoming part of her collection.
La Collectionneuse was Rohmer's second feature, after The Sign of Leo (1959). Winning the Special Jury Prize at Berlin, it made his reputation (previously he had worked as a critic, cowriting with Claude Chabrol the first major study of Hitchcock) and set the template for much of his later work. At least one critic (Derek Malcolm of The Guardian) named La Collectionneuse as one of his films of the century.
La Collectionneuse is part of his "Six Contes Moraux" (Six Moral Tales), numbered IV. (I and II are the short The Girl at the Monceau Bakery and the mid-length Suzanne's Career, both available on one DVD from Fox Lorber. IV was made before III, which is My Night at Maud's.) In each of the Moral Tales, a man is faced with a moral dilemma, but the film is, according to Rohmer, "less concerned with what people do than with what is going on in their minds while they are doing it." In short, with character rather than action. Much of this is revealed in dialogue that is often witty and analytical, but Rohmer often treats his characters (especially his men) with an ironic distance. It's clear, even this early on, that he finds women more interesting than men. Haydée is one of Rohmer's "unknowable" women, but is still a rounded character in her own right.
She's introduced in a wordless prologue, walking down a beach in a bikini, while Rohmer's camera in a series of semi-abstract shots, takes in part of her body at her time: a slow tilt down her front, then a shot of the back of her knees, and so on. Adrien's prologue sees him in conversation with two young women, asking if there is such a thing as beauty or do people become beautiful when you are attracted to them? Adrien narrates the rest of the film (which relies more on narration than Rohmer's later films), but its direction is clear from the start: he may analyse his feelings as much as he likes, but Haydée is forever out of his reach.
La Collectionneuse was the late great Nestor Almendros's feature debut, and was shot very quickly on a low budget. Almendros uses natural light to great effect. Unfortunately this makes for rather soft results on this DVD, especially in the interior scenes. The harder outside light gives better definition. Also, the transfer has some problems due to the age of the material: lots of speckles at the beginnings and ends of reels and a couple of splices. The film was shot in Academy Ratio and mono, and that's exactly what you get here. The soundtrack is clear, which is fortunate in a film like this where dialogue is everything. There are twelve chapter stops, which is just about adequate for quite a short film. A word about the running time: the packaging says the film runs 88 minutes and some reference books give 90. However, this DVD actually runs 82:21. There are no PAL speed-up issues here, so either reference sources are inaccurate (not for the first time) or there is something missing from this print – though I can see no reason why there should be. (Maybe some end music has been snipped?)
Extras are minimal. There are filmographies for the three leads and Rohmer, and a list of awards Rohmer has won. There is also a weblink on the disc, but you can just as easily visit the website directly.
If you're a Rohmer fan, La Collectionneuse is essential viewing, and it would make a good introduction to his work to newcomers. Since beggars can't be choosers (the film was released on video in Britain by Connoisseur, but is out of print), you have to be grateful this is available on DVD at all. But, as with a lot of Fox Lorber releases, as a package it's not really much more than adequate.