My Girlfriend's Boyfriend Review

Blanche (Emmanuelle Chaulet) works for the council at Cergy-Pontoise, a “new town” just outside Paris. One day she meets Léa (Sophie Renoir) and the two young women become friends. At the local swimming pool, they bump into Alexandre (François-Eric Gendron) and his girlfriend Adrienne (Anne-Laure Meury). Blanche is immediately attracted to Alexandre. However, one day during the holidays she bumps into Fabien (Eric Veillard), who’s Léa’s boyfriend…

My Girlfriend’s Boyfriend (L’ami de mon amie, known in the USA as Girlfriends and Boyfriends) was the sixth and last of Rohmer’s Comedies and Proverbs series, which occupied him through most of the 1980s. Each of the six films illustrates a saying: here it’s “My friend’s friends are my friends”. Rohmer’s previous series, the Moral Tales, all with male protagonists whom Rohmer tends to regard with an ironic distance. In the Comedies and Proverbs the central characters are all women, and younger women at that, mostly in their early twenties. Rohmer regards his heroines with considerable sympathy, and they’re utterly convincing in their absorption in matters of the heart, and often more complex characters than the men in their lives. It’s hard to credit that the best films of the time about young people were made by a man then in his sixties, but there you have it. Emmanuelle Chaulet, in her debut film, shines as the romantically clumsy Blanche, but she’s matched by the rest of the principal cast. Renoir and Meury had worked with Rohmer before, the latter most notably as Lucie the girl detective in The Aviator’s Wife.

Rohmer’s great trademark, and a considerable bugbear to his detractors, is his dialogue. It’s often highly literate, and with certain characters very highbrow (though again it’s easy to miss Rohmer’s irony). It’s not necessarily witty in the sense that the characters are telling jokes, though at times it is very funny. And there’s a lot of it. This doesn’t mean that the films are uncinematic – far from it. By this point in his career, Rohmer’s directing style had developed a simplicity that’s deceptive, because the camera is always in the right place, and the editing (by Maria-Luisa Garcia) precisely right. There’s no getting away from the fact that his films are slow especially by Hollywood standards, but Rohmer doesn’t keep a shot on screen longer than he needs to. This seeming artlessness disguises how tightly plotted his best films actually are, in this case leading up to a twist in the tail. It’s easy to overrate bravura displays of directorial flashiness over a self-effacing style like this, but that’s always been the way. Rohmer is undeniably an acquired taste, but this film is as good an introduction as any other – chances are, if you like this you’ll want to see the others.

Arrow’s DVD is full-frame. It’s certainly true that many of Rohmer’s features have been in Academy Ratio (1.37:1) but by the time he made My Girlfriend’s Boyfriend he was filming in 1.66:1, at least for his 35mm work. This DVD transfer is open-matte, and Rohmer and his cinematographers have never gone in for ultra-tight composition, but even so it would have been better to have the intended ratio, with or without anamorphic enhancement. The print used is in good condition, and certainly much cleaner than Fox Lorber’s transfers of admittedly older Rohmer films. Bernard Lutic’s photography deliberately de-emphasises the colours, with only a red top worn in one scene by Blanche really standing out. For the rest of the films, the characters wear cool blues, blacks and whites, and the modernist décor of Cergy-Pontoise adds to this effect.

The sound is mono, as all Rohmer’s films were before Autumn Tale. As this film is so dialogue-driven, that’s not any great loss, and the dialogue is always clear, with music and sound effects well balanced. If you are very fluent in French, you can switch off the subtitles. However, most of us will need them kept switched on!

The DVD has sixteen chapter stops. Incidentally, there’s an error both on the disc and the case of the copy received for review. The BBFC certificate is given as a 15 when in fact it’s a PG.

The main extra is one of Rohmer’s most obscure works (the IMDB’s is the only filmography which lists it), a black-and-white short film, “Changing Landscapes” (“Metamorphoses du paysage”), made for TV in 1964. It appears to be part of a series with the overall title Vers l’unité du monde: L’ère industrielle. It’s a series of shots of the countryside and its transformation into an urban landscape, with a voiceover (in French, subtitled into English). The end credits call it “Une émission de Maurice Schérer” (i.e. Rohmer, using a variation of his real name). The cinematography is credited to Pierre Lhomme, a DP of some distinction but one who never worked on any of Rohmer’s features. “Changing Landscapes” is full-frame, running 22:17. It’s in remarkably good condition, with only a few scratches here and there. This tele-essay will no doubt be much too dry for a general audience, but Rohmer fans and completists will be glad to have it, so well done to Arrow for including it.

The only other extra is the trailer for My Girlfriend’s Boyfriend, again full-frame. Oddly this has no English subtitles. It runs 1:53.

My Girlfriend’s Boyfriend is the first of Arrow’s Eric Rohmer DVD Collection, which will include the remaining five Comedies and Proverbs. It’s hoped to review all of them for DVD Times. Now can someone release English-subtitled DVDs of the Tales of the Four Seasons, please?

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