I’ve been spending the week watching Eric Rohmer’s series of Six Moral Tales, which are (filmed, for some reason, slightly out of order):
- The Girl at the Monceau Bakery (1963)
- Suzanne’s Career (1963)
- My Night at Maud’s (1969)
- La Collectioneuse (1967)
- Claire’s Knee (1970)
- Love in the Afternoon (1972)
You might say that, rather than being six moral tales, this is actually the same moral tale filmed six times. The basic plot doesn’t change: a man is committed to one woman, but meets another; the film is about the relationship between the man and this other. Indeed, the first woman plays little part in the films, if she appears at all – particularly in the later films when perhaps the idea has become more refined (4. she appears in the opening scene only; 5. she never appears, only in a photograph). Infidelity is the theme, but it is the idea of infidelity rather than its consummation: indeed, even though at times the man and woman might sleep in the same room together (2 / 3), or in the same bed, nothing happens, though at times it is about to (3 / 6) until the man is withheld (religious belief (perhaps) / a moment’s recollection of married life).
There is, though, a progression of sorts. From 1 to 6, the main character is growing up – he is in a different point in his relationship with the first woman when he is challenged by infidelity: 1. he is a student, chatting up the first woman; 2. he is much the same, but more awkward; 3. he is a professional, divorced, but still chasing after the first woman; 4. he is going out with the first woman; 5. he is engaged; 6. he is married.
And what of the second woman? She is: 1. a woman he has seen on the street; 2. a woman he meets at parties; 3. a woman he has seen at church; 4. an acquaintance of an acquaintance; 5. various; 6. an old flame (?).
And why is it he isn’t in the end unfaithful (well, in Obooki’s view, generally because he is foolish: Obooki finds he much prefers the second woman (perhaps with the exception of 6): the first woman is a cold beautiful type, in whom Obooki has no interest – but actually): 1. because he is mistaken in his frustration with the first woman; 2. because she is not his type; 3. because his religious beliefs prevent him acting at the crucial moment; 4. hmm, this one’s a bit more complex; 5. and this; 6. because he realises the value of his family.
The character of the man, does this progress too in the films? Perhaps. In the early films (1, 2, 4), the man acts cruelly towards women, he manipulates their feelings, he pretends to love when he does not, always for his own purpose; but not so much in the later films, where the men have become more worldly, more appreciative of the feelings of others (especially 5).
And the other woman, what becomes of her? 1. we do not know; 2. treated badly throughout and thoroughly underestimated, she ultimately triumphs; 3. she continues on as she did, none of it disturbs her; 4. she continues on as she did, none of it disturbs her; 5. she continues on as she did, none of it disturbs her; 6. we do not know, but suspect she is unhappy.
What does it all mean? Obooki doesn’t know.
What moral can we draw? In any given situation where we are given the choice between sticking with what we’ve already chosen or giving it up and choosing something else, there are a variety of reasons for sticking with what we’ve already chosen, which may or may not be applicable depending on circumstance.
Claire’s Knee, by the way, is Obooki’s clear favourite (I had seen 1, 2 and 5 before): perhaps because of the setting, but also because the characters are more interesting, more complex and developed. Rohmer, one feels, has by now begun to perfect his style.