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Thursday, February 12, 2009

Rendezvous in Paris (Eric Rohmer, 1995)

One of Rohmer's infrequent forays into the short form - this feature is comprised of three short films that are narratively independent but overlap thematically, like a Venn diagram. The connective theme is coincidence - unexpected encounters and associations. Fate, dumb luck, whimsical acts of a higher power, these became favored devices of American filmmakers since Paul Thomas Anderson foregrounded their existence and effects in his sprawling 1999 drama Magnolia, but even after a decade of serendipity-ennui, Rohmer's use of it remains fresh. Partly this is because his characters recognize and discuss improbability openly, and partly because they don't make a big deal about it. In another film, the revelation of shared lovers, shared knowledge, or shared spaces is delivered not only as dramatic payoff, but dressed up as the stuff of meta-fictional, mythic wonder. Certainly Rohmer knows how to get a laugh, but if anything he discourages any deeper reading and directs us instead to the real meat of each vignette: a girl who is betrayed by two separate men, a married woman whose complacency in carrying out an affair is shattered, and a young painter whose attempts to articulate painterly aesthetics (his own, Picasso's) are as embarrassing as his struggle to communicate his sudden infatuation with a chance encounter at an art museum. This being Rohmer, the girl in the first segment is revitalized rather than crushed by the men who'd done her wrong, the painter's fumbling attempts to woo a stranger are deeply felt rather than pretentious, so that it's possible that his artistic life has been saved even after his romantic slate has been wiped clean. The middle tale is the most nuanced, charting the course of a touchy affair that gradually warms and solidifies into a genuine, mutual bond. Unforeseen coincidence is the catalyst, not the active agent, of the sorrowful conclusion.

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