The Girl at the Monceau Bakery/Suzanne's Career Review
With these two short films, Eric Rohmer began the series of Six Moral Tales, which made his name. In The Girl at the Monceau Bakery (La boulangère de Monceau), the protagonist is a young man (Barbet Schroeder, Rohmer's producer at the time and soon to be a director in his own right). The young man is infatuated by Sylvie (Michèle Girardon), whom he sees walking past every day. When he doesn't see her for some time, he asks the girl at the bakery, Jacqueline (Claudine Soubrier). to go out with him. Then he is faced with a dilemma when he arranges a date with Sylvie for the same time.
Monceau is under half an hour long, but many of Rohmer's stylistic traits and themes are already in place. The use of voiceover is one, but what the young man tells us is not necessarily to be taken at face value. Rohmer always views his characters with an ironic distance, men especially, and what the voiceover says does not always tally with what we see on screen. The young man overstates the two women's reactions to him, and ultimately he is not very likeable.
Suzanne’s Career (La carrière de Suzanne), made the same year, comes in at just under an hour and is much more complex and ambitious. Bertrand (Philippe Beuzen) narrates this time. He and his friend Guillaume (Christian Charrière) meet a young woman, Suzanne (Catherine Sée). At first Bertrand, who is going out with Sophie (Diane Wilkinson), thinks little of Suzanne but changes his mind when Guillaume shows an interest. Again, Suzanne’s Career is evidence that Rohmer is a man who likes women more than he does men: at the end of the film, Bertrand has learned something from his own behaviour. Suzanne, ultimately out of reach of both men, could be seen as a prototype for Rohmer's later "unknowable" women, like Haydée in La collectionneuse and Chloe in Chloe in the Afternoon, although she's more vulnerable than they are.
Both films were shot in black and white 16mm with Rohmer's trademark unobtrusive naturalism. The visuals are no more than functional, but do give a strong documentary-like sense of early 60s Paris. The visual qualities of Rohmer's work would take a leap forward with the next Moral Tale, the feature-length La collectionneuse, shot in colour and 35mm by the great Nestor Almendros. Patrick Bauchau, one of the leads of that film, has a small, uncredited role in Suzanne's Career.
The picture on this DVD, transferred in the original Academy Ratio, has a softness and relative lack of definition, as you might expect given the films' 16mm origins. Suzanne’s Career in particular is rather dark and muddily photographed in places. All of this is no doubt due to the state of the original materials: there are occasional scratches, dust spots, tramlines and one or two jumps. None of this is too distracting, and given the age of the films their condition is probably as good as you're likely to get. The sound is basic mono, clearly recorded apart from occasional crackles and not much more than a dialogue track. The extras are very much as usual for a Fox Lorber/Winstar Rohmer disc: a list of credits (fuller than those on screen), filmographies for Rohmer and Barbet Schroeder (acting roles only for the latter), a list of awards and a weblink. There are twelve chapter stops, four for the first film, eight for the second – adequate but hardly generous.
To be quite frank, a disc like this is of more value to established fans and completists than to newcomers to Rohmer's work. That said, if you do fall into the former categories it's very good to have the chance to see something like this. In general, the packaging of two or more shorts on one disc is a very good idea. But as
with other discs in the series it's no more than an average, no-frills package.