Love in the Afternoon Review
Love in the Afternoon (L’amour, l’après-midi – the film is known as Chloe in the Afternoon in the US.) was the last of Eric Rohmer’s series of Six Moral Tales. Frédéric (Bernard Verley) has a good life: he’s a well-paid executive, happily married to Hélène (Françoise Verley), with a young child and another on the way. But somehow he can’t help himself from fantasising about every woman he sees. Then one day, an old friend, the free-spirited Chloe (Zouzou), re-enters his life. When she openly tries to seduce him, he is put to the test. Love in the Afternoon features a man faced with a moral dilemma who ultimately has to make a choice. Will he sleep with Chloe, or will he retreat into the safety of his wife and family?
Eric Rohmer is the master of the “miniplot”: his narratives, though tightly plotted, are character-led, with much of that characterisation revealed through dialogue. As such, his films can be an acquired taste. On the surface, not much might seem to happen, but within his protagonists plenty does. Love in the Afternoon is one of his best, most perfectly structured stories, and would be a good introduction to his work for newcomers. Importantly, Frédéric’s dilemma is a real one: if there’s undeniable chemistry between him and his wife, that’s because the actors were married in real life – Rohmer cast the Verleys after seeing their wedding photos. On the other hand, Chloe represents freedom from his safe existence: as played by Zouzou, she’s fascinating, ultimately unknowable, and extremely alluring. It’s already clear that Rohmer loves women and finds them more fascinating then men: all six of his later Comedies and Proverbs series and all but one of the Tales of the Four Seasons, made in the 1990s, feature female protagonists. Rohmer fans should note the dream sequence featuring the leading ladies of the previous Moral Tales, and a nod to Vertigo (Rohmer cowrote a book on Hitchcock with Claude Chabrol) in the final sequence.
Arrow’s DVD is full-frame, as it should be: like much of Rohmer’s work it was shot with Academy Ratio in mind. This transfer is a considerable improvement on the one Fox Lorber used for their American DVD, which was excessively soft and washed out. Arrow’s transfer has truer colours (Rohmer and Almendros’s muted colour scheme is intentional) and is sharper, though still a little soft. I’ve not seen this film in 35mm, but I have seen it on two separate DVDs and on VHS now, and I suspect Almendros’s trademark natural-light camerawork has always looked that way.
The soundtrack is basic mono, which is the way this film always has been heard. Voiceover, dialogue, music and sound effects are all very well balanced. Of these, as with any Rohmer film, the most important is the dialogue, which is always clearly audible. If you’re fluent enough in French, you can switch the subtitles off. There are twelve chapter stops.
As with Arrow’s earlier DVD of My Girlfriend’s Boyfriend, there are two extra items. Firstly there is the rather lengthy (3:51) theatrical trailer. As with the one on the My Girlfriend’s Boyfriend DVD this is in unsubtitled French. Even more oddly, this is in non-anamorphic 1.85:1 instead of the 4:3 ratio which the feature is correctly in. The second extra is a short film Rohmer made in 1958, Veronica and Her Dunce (Véronique et son cancre), which runs 17:38. This is an occasionally twee but generally amusing comedy about a tutor and her recalcitrant young pupil. Shot in black and white, it’s presented full-frame. The picture is generally quite acceptable though a little soft, probably due to the film’s 16mm origins. Some scratches and tramlines are noticeable but aren’t too distracting.
Love in the Afternoon is one of the best of the Moral Tales. It’s certainly my favourite of them. It’s well presented on this DVD, and the chance to see the early short film is a bonus.