A Good Marriage Review

Can any of us refrain
From building castles in Spain?
(La Fontaine)

That’s the saying which A Good Marriage (Le beau marriage), second of Eric Rohmer’s six “Comedies and Proverbs” illustrates. Sabine (Béatrice Romand) is a mid-twenties arts student working in an antiques shop in the old town of Le Mans. She breaks up an affair with Simon (Féodor Atkine) when she realises that for him his wife and children will always be first. So Sabine decides to get married. But first she needs to find a husband. At a party, her friend Clarisse (Arielle Dombasle) introduces her to handsome, high-flying lawyer Edmond (André Dussollier). So Sabine sets her sights on Edmond, but Edmond has other plans…

A Good Marriage manages a remarkable feat of empathy. As with all the Comedies and Proverbs, Rohmer puts at the centre of his film a young woman whose search for love and whose emotional life is all-important, no matter how self-absorbed and silly they may be at times. And Sabine is by some way the silliest of Rohmer’s heroines. Rohmer views her not without irony, but you can sense that he likes his young women more than he does his men, who are viewed with a detachment that can border on the judgemental. Sabine is doomed to disillusionment from the start, but Rohmer leaves her with a hint of future happiness. Much of the credit for this has to go to Béatrice Romand, who first worked with Rohmer at the age of eighteen in Claire’s Knee and more recently played one of the lead roles in Autumn Tale, with several smaller roles in between. She creates a rounded character, down to the body language. Even the way Sabine walks is revealing: a bull-headed certainty that won’t allow for contradiction. It’s very much Romand’s film, but Rohmer surrounds her with a solid supporting cast, many of whom he had worked with before or he would work with again.

Acting apart, as ever the pleasure of an Eric Rohmer film depends on a story that’s more tightly structured that it might appear, and in particular his trademark use of dialogue. The way his characters talk is vital. As well as conveying plot and character, it’s always highly literate and a joy to listen to. There’s nothing in A Good Marriage that will convert the unconverted, but for anyone who has acquired the taste for Rohmer’s films will find much to delight them here.

Arrow’s all-regions DVD is presented with a full-frame transfer. I have no definitive source as to the correct aspect ratio (before this DVD, I’d only seen the film once before, on BBC2 in the early 1980s), but Academy would seem to be correct. As with many of his films shot in 1.37:1, many of the shots would presumably deliberately look fine in 1.66:1 (but certainly not wider than that), but there are some that would look awkwardly cropped. The cinematographer is Bernard Lutic, who photographed two others of the Comedies and Proverbs (The Aviator’s Wife and My Girlfriend’s Boyfriend). He seems to have adopted the same natural-light aesthetic as Rohmer’s most frequent DP, Nestor Almendros. This isn’t always DVD-friendly: when the light is strong, such as the scene of Sabine and André’s conversation on the balcony during the party, the colours are strong and vibrant, but otherwise they are more muted. And when it’s naturally dark, such as in the bedroom scene near the beginning, you get some very deep shadows. The film was shot in 35mm, so it’s less grainy and soft than some other Rohmer films (notably The Green Ray), but the transfer is certainly very acceptable. Aliasing was quite frequent on a 28” widescreen TV, almost absent on a PC monitor, so this may depend on your set-up. Moiré patterns on intricately-patterned clothing happen less often, and are less distracting.

The sound is mono, as it was in the cinema, and it’s entirely acceptable for a dialogue-driven film. The only music in the film is that played in particular scenes, though a very early-eighties synthesiser tune that is heard during Sabine’s party is also played over both sets of credits. This dates the film more than anything else. There are twelve chapter stops. The English subtitles are optional, though you’d have to be very fluent in spoken French to do without them.

As with their earlier Rohmer releases, Arrow have provided some extras which are few in number but certainly worthwhile. First is the trailer, which is full-frame and runs 1:51. It’s in French as you would expect, but for some reason it has no subtitles. More substantial is a short piece derived from a radio interview (similar to the extra on the Green Ray DVD). Here, Rohmer talks about his actor’s speech rhythms: generally he lets them find their own. Romand, he says, speaks quite slowly but does articulate carefully. He compares her to Fernandel, a popular French comedian of the 40s and 50s – not in terms of looks, fortunately, but because he had a similar slow but very clear delivery. Rohmer also discusses the film’s look, with an emphasis on autumnal browns and muted pinks, which he compares with the cool blues and pale yellows of the previous film, The Aviator’s Wife. Finally, he talks about the social backgrounds of the characters, with the different class origins of Sabine and Edmond playing an important part of the story. This featurette runs 7:55 and is again full-frame.

A Good Marriage will certainly be a must for Rohmer fans, though it’s probably not the best place for beginners to start. As with their previous Rohmer discs, Arrow have given us an attractive DVD package.

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