Saturday, April 24, 2010

THE AVIATOR'S WIFE (Eric Rohmer, 1981, France)

A young man’s love is grounded by a bad weather relationship as he realizes he is only the co-pilot in the affair. Writer/Director Eric Rohmer assimilates the characters into this emotionally subdued drama by refraining from close-ups, even in claustrophobic confines, and relies on long takes in medium shots. This gives a voyeuristic frisson to the story as we peer through the drawn blinds of two static lives.

The first of the Comedies & Proverbs series, Rohmer reflects upon the maxim that “It is impossible to think about nothing”. François is dedicated to his failing intimacy with Anne; it seems the harder he grips the looser his hold. Like the narrator of Dostoevsky’s WHITE NIGHTS, he remains hopefully close to the object of his desire but fears he will always be second to his lover’s true intentions. The film begins with François leaving a note on Anne’s door as she awakens quietly in the darkness. She comes fully awake moments later when a note is slipped under the door; it is Christian descending from the heavens. Anne is soon caught between the men in her life, the turbulence driving her towards emotional isolation. François spies Anne and Christian leave the apartment together so he spends the day following the ex-boyfriend, a quest to retain the equilibrium of his vertiginous ego.

Throughout the day Anne attempts to ignore François and eventually berates him in public, even though she displays a genuine affection for his presence; this constant pushing and pulling leaves him confused. He stalks Christian in secret but doesn’t understand his own motives until the waifish Lucie offers insight by momentarily freeing him from the rigid bonds of reality. Throughout the day, they follow their mark (and his mysterious female companion) as Lucie’s imagination and naiveté breath new life into the stoic protagonist. In one scene François momentarily closes his eyes, weary from the chase, and the playful Lucie brushes his cheek and tells him that he’s been asleep for ten minutes. His unquestioning belief in her, a stranger he has only known for a few hours, contrasts his mistrust of Anne. It’s not until this moment that he recognizes the young lady as an individual entity and not just a sounding board for his own problems.

Finally, François confronts Anne’s evasiveness but remains mired in their disassociated association. He writes a letter to Lucie that explains the identity of the unidentified woman, hoping to deliver it by hand. But he again plays the part of voyeur, seeing her kissing a boy on her doorstep. She is bubbly and full of energy, something that François has forgotten about the tenor of love. He glumly disappears into the night, his resolve deposited in a steel box. Final Grade: (B+)


Ed Howard said...

I love this film, it's one of my favorite Rohmers. The central section, signaled by that great iris-in/iris-out silent movie throwback, is a wonderful self-contained set piece, with so much great dialogue as this relationship/friendship develops so realistically.

Coincidentally, just this morning I watched Pialat's Graduate First..., one of only a couple of movies in which Philippe Marlaud, the star of this film as well, appeared before his untimely death. What a warm, charming, likable actor.

Alex DeLarge said...

Thanks for visiting Ed!

This was my first Rohmer film. I'm working my way through his Comedies & Proverbs series which is available as a box set in the UK for $10 imported!

In a few months I will host a Rohmer film night but haven't decided what films to include.

I'll check out GRADUATE FIRST too:)

Ed Howard said...

Ah, what a great intro to Rohmer. Of course he's most well-known for the "Six Moral Tales," but I actually prefer the "Comedies and Proverbs" series; all these films are charming and fun on the surface, while never forsaking the deeper philosophical and moral inquiries that are inevitably at the core of Rohmer's work. He's one of those directors who never made a bad film, but other than this one I'm especially fond of Pauline at the Beach, A Winter's Tale, My Girlfriend's Boyfriend, My Night at Maud's, La Collectionneuse, The Green Ray, A Summer's Tale and the utterly uncharacteristic Perceval.