Eric Rohmer Collection: A Good Marriage Review
The Eric Rohmer Collection is a box set of ten films on nine Blu-ray discs, released in a limited edition of 2000 by Arrow Academy. These reviews are a disc at a time, the films being reviewed in chronological order, except for those on the final disc. To read the other reviews, please click on the “Eric Rohmer Collection” tag below.
Part of the following is revised and updated from my DVD review of A Good Marriage, written for this site in 2004.
Quel esprit ne bat la campagne? Qui ne fait châteaux en Espagne? (Can any of us refrain, from building castles in Spain?) (La Fontaine)
That’s the saying which A Good Marriage (Le beau mariage, though it's usually known in English with the indefinite rather than definite article), the second of the Comedies and Proverbs illustrates, or rather uses as a springboard for what follows. 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 judgmental. 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. Born in Algeria in 1952, she just about qualified as a twentysomething when she made this film, though she's quite capably playing younger than her actual age. Romand first worked with Rohmer at the age of eighteen in Claire's Knee and reappeared as the same character in the dream sequence in Love in the Afternoon. She had small roles in The Green Ray and Four Adventures of Reinette and Mirabelle before returning as one of the two leads in Autumn Tale, alongside another Rohmer regular who had reached middle age, Marie Rivière. If the previous of the Comedies and Proverbs, The Aviator's Wife, was something of an ensemble piece, here Rohmer puts Sabine centre stage throughout. Romand 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 her film, but Rohmer surrounds her with a solid supporting cast, many of whom he had worked with before or he would work with again.
Bernard Lutic returned as cinematographer, shooting in 35mm this time. The film was shot in Autumn, and Rohmer and Lutic go for a suitable colour scheme, all pinks, browns, ochres and russets. Even the opening credits play against an orange background.
A Good Marriage played in competition at the 1982 Venice Film Festival, winning Romand the Best Actress prize.
A Good Marriage comes to Blu-ray as part of Arrow Academy's Eric Rohmer Collection. The film was given a AA certificate (restricted to fourteen-year-olds and older) on its original British cinema release in 1982, due presumably to brief nudity, fleetingly full-frontal, in an early scene. It has carried a PG certificate ever since, most recently submitted to the BBFC for Arrow's previous DVD.
That DVD had a full-frame 1.33:1 transfer, while the present Blu-ray is in 1.66:1, which does seem correct. The film was shown in approximately that ratio, letterboxed on a 4:3 television set, the first time I saw it, on BBC2 in 1987. Lutic's cinematography would seem to have adopted the same natural-light aesthetic, and given the autumnal feel, some scenes are rather darkly lit, but the upgrade to 1080p resolution means that they show up rather better than they do in standard definition, and shadow detail is good. Due to its 35mm origins, this is much less grainy than the film which came before it, and the grain which is present is natural and filmlike.
The soundtrack is the original mono, clear and well-balanced. The only music is diegetic, other than some very 80s synthpop played over both sets of credits. English subtitles are optional.
The extras begin with another in the series of “Eric Rohmer parle ses films” (8:17), with Rohmer, interviewed on radio, speaking over relevant extracts (in 4:3) from this film and others of his work. He 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 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. Also on the disc is a short interview with André Dussollier (3:23) from French television and the theatrical trailer (1:57).
The book contained in Arrow Academy's box set includes an essay on The Good Marriage by Sophie Monks Kaufman. This views the film explicitly from the perspective of a woman watching this film about a woman written and directed by a man – and watching it in 2017, thirty-five years after it was made. Monks Kaufman writes about how Rohmer both explores and subverts the usual trope that a woman's fulfilment is in finding a husband: Sabine is both determined and strong-willed and with a goal of subservience to a man. The essay uses lines of Sabine's dialogue as springboards, particularly concentrating on the scene where Sabine tells her mother (Thamila Mezbah) that she will be married, even if the man in question doesn't know it yet.