Eric Rohmer Collection: Pauline at the Beach 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 Pauline at the Beach, written for this site in 2010, following Rohmer's death.
Qui trop parole, il se mesfait (A wagging tongue bites itself) - Chrétien de Troyes
Several times in his career Eric Rohmer took his characters on holiday, his investigations into their lives, loves, and reasons for both accentuated by their being away from a place they call home. That was the case with his breakthrough film La collectionneuse and again two Moral Tales later with Claire's Knee. And here we are again, for the first but not the last time in the Comedies and Proverbs, Pauline at the Beach (Pauline à la plage).
It's the end of summer. Following a recent divorce, Marion (Arielle Dombasle) decides to spend some time at the family beach house in Normandy. She takes her fifteen-year-old cousin Pauline (Amanda Langlet) with her. On the beach, they meet Pierre (Pascal Greggory), Marion's ex-lover, who introduces them to Henri (Féodor Atkine). Marion becomes attracted to Henri, even though Pierre is still in love with her. And meanwhile, Pauline meets Sylvain (Simon de la Brosse).
Rohmer wrote the script to fit within the parameters of a low budget: a credited cast of six and a crew of five (three on camera, two on sound), with three main locations, two villas and a beach, shot in Jullouville, Normandy in five weeks. If most of the Comedies and Proverbs centre on one young woman, like The Aviator's Wife before it, Pauline at the Beach, despite its title, is more of an ensemble piece, a tightly constructed story that with a few more vanishings through doors and dropped trousers could easily be a stage farce, Rohmer once again drawing on French theatrical tradition. However, it is largely through Pauline's eyes that we see much of the action and judge it, though the viewer is ahead of her in finding out what is really going on. It's for her a bewildering look at the ways of adults, so it's not surprising that she finds a friend in Sylvain, who himself gets to take part in a deception. In Sabine in the previous Comedy and Proverb was by far the silliest of the series' protagonists, Pauline is possibly the most level-headed, despite being the youngest.
The four adults in the principal cast had all worked for Rohmer before. Simon de la Brosse, sixteen at the time of the film, made his debut here. He went on to appear in Charlotte Gainsbourg's breakthrough film An Impudent Girl (L'effrontée, 1985) and Betty Blue (1986). Sadly, he took his own life in 1998, aged thirty-two. Amanda Langlet was fifteen, and Rohmer cast her on the basis of a photograph of her he had been sent. She worked again for Rohmer in A Summer's Tale and Triple Agent.
Returning as Rohmer's cinematographer was Nestor Almendros. After their last collaboration, Perceval, he had won an Oscar for Days of Heaven and was in considerable demand. He had been working in Hollywood, having photographed such films as Kramer vs. Kramer, The Blue Lagoon, Still of the Night and Sophie's Choice in between. Almendros's principle was to use natural light, augmented if necessary, but any light source had to be justified. He took this return to ,low-budget filming, after working on major-studio productions, as an exercise in humility, but also rejuvenating. The exterior scenes in bright sunlight hardly needed any extra lighting, and the night scenes made use of new and more sensitive colour film stock. The one tracking shot, in front of Pierre and Louisette (Rosette), the sweet-shop owner he is having an affair with unknown to anyone else, was carried out from the back of a convertible pushed along with the help of some local people. Almendros's work, with some inspiration from Matisse paintings, is possibly a little more studied that Bernard Lutic's in the previous two Comedies and Proverbs. Pauline at the Beach was Almendros's last collaboration with Rohmer; they had made seven features and four short films together. Almendros died in 1992, aged sixty-two.
Pauline at the Beach won Rohmer the Silver Bear at the 1983 Berlin Film Festival. The film went on to cinema releases in the UK and USA, doing particularly well on the American arthouse circuit.
Arrow Academy's Blu-ray is part of their Eric Rohmer Collection box set. On its original British release, Pauline at the Beach carried a 15 certificate, and that's still the case for home viewing.
The Blu-ray transfer is the ratio of 1.66:1, and we have Nestor Almendros's word for it (in his book A Man with a Camera) that that is correct. Again, nothing to complain about. This is an intentionally colourful and for much of the running time brightly-lit film, with strong colours, good shadow detail, solid blacks and natural grain.
The soundtrack is the original mono, with dialogue, sound effects and music (only of the diegetic variety) well balanced. English subtitles are optionally available.
The instalment of “Eric Rohmer parle ses films” (13:30) on this disc is a little different from others of these featurettes. Instead of Rohmer's voice talking over relevant film extracts, we have part of an interview conducted with Jean Douchet in 1993 for the French TV programme Cinéma de notre temps. He produces a notebook with his original outline for Pauline, which dates back to the 1950s. It was originally going to be called A Dandy Rogue in Porcelain (a reference to George Meredith's novel The Egoist, a favourite of his) but he clearly thought better of that in the years between then and his making the film in the summer of 1982. He also discusses the casting of Amanda Langlet, whose potential he first saw in a still photograph.
Next up is an interview with Arielle Dombasle, from French television in 1983 (4:04). The interviewer begins rather patronisingly by suggesting that Dombasle is more than Rohmer's mascot, though she was undoubtedly a regular collaborator. They they go on to discuss, with the help of a film extract, whether she shares her character's views of love and whether contemporary twentysomethings did engage in romantic discourse like that – to which she replies that Marion is only one young person in the film. Also on the disc is the theatrical trailer (1:47).
The essay in the book contained in the box set is by Geoffrey Macnab. It begins with a comparison to Pauline at the Beach which seems odd at first: Rohmer's final film, The Romance of Astrea and Celadon, despite its being set in Ancient Gaul in the fifth century and based on a novel written in the seventeenth. But as Macnab says, remove the togas and the sheep and the characters' preoccupations aren't so far removed from those of Pauline and company. In that way, Macnab says, Pauline at the Beach is a film that has dated only on the surface: the usual things like no mobile phones, Internet or social media. Otherwise it's timeless. Macnab also draws upon his experience of interviewing Rohmer, then in his late eighties. We have a picture of an intensely private man, though one very serious about literature (an admirer of Robert Louis Stevenson, whom he defends from the charge of being “merely” a children's author) as he was about cinema. Following this in the book is the relevant extract from Nestor Almendros's A Man with a Camera.