Thursday, June 30, 2016


(Would you believe me if I told you it took me five minutes to realize that the title has two 'n''s in the name?  Well... it did)

My first, instinctual, gut reaction to La Collectionneuse (or 'The Collector", though I probably prefer to call it the French title so as not to confuse it with the John Fowles adaptation or the 2009 horror movie), is 'well, a lot of this is surely written with a keen ear for the dialog of those with money, or at least those who think they have enough for vacation (and it IS France so why not), but what's all the fuss about?'  This is one of Eric Rohmer's six "Moral Tales", films dealing with men and women in relationships, mostly (if not all) from the male point of view, and how men ascribe expectations to women.  Though I've not seen all of the films (My Night at Maud's and Love in the Afternoon are fantastic, The Baker one is alright), this one seemed... well, dry, about characters who were not likeable engaging in a not-hot love triangle.  But then IS it love?

This is a film that features a trio of characters - the two main guys on their vacation, Adrian (Bachau) and Daniel (Pommereulle) - and how they're seeming idyllic time (or that spent just, well, not doing much except lounging about, maybe reading, a little swimming, trying to do as little as possible like they're in Chinatown or some shit) is broken apart by the appearance of Haydee (though there are two others, Adrian's girlfriend who leaves in one of the 'prologues' to the film, and an older man who appears later in the story as a collector of items that Adrian is trying to sell as an art dealer of some kind).  This is all from Adrian's point of view, by the way, as he goes on and on... and on in narration about how he sees the unfolding situation.  And he talks a great deal as well - sometimes, often, as is suggested by one character later, to hear himself talk.

The idea here is that the "Collector" of the title isn't Adrian with his antiques (though that could very well be him and I wouldn't put someone with the intellectual heft of Rohmer to have double or triple or countless meanings here), but with Haydee.  She goes out with men night after night, and Adrian and Daniel have a kind of deal to see who will/won't sleep with her first.  Adrian says he has no interest, and perhaps who can blame him?  Haydee is the sort of pretty girl who appears to have not much personality aside from being pretty: she looks great in a bathing suit, which we see in the first shots of the film in her 'prologue' of her on the beach, and she talks often in a way that is subdued, not really questioning or being too curious intellectually, except that she does rebuke Adrian's suggestion that she is a "collector" - she says she is "searching" for... someone, or something. 

IS she only a pretty girl?  I think the sort of challenge, if I can call it that, of watching this film is to find a port into it emotionally.  These are characters, at least for Adrian and Daniel, I'm not so sure about Haydee (though it could be argued), who are making conflicts for themselves under the bright, sunny French countryside skies and grasses (lensed by Nestor Almendros, so of course you can't complain there, it's just not possible).

 It's by Rohmer's design that people don't get too angry or too responsive to things where people, I don't know, raise their voices or laugh too much (though there are signs of amusement), with a couple of exceptions.  There is a moment where Daniel, getting tired of Haydee - who he ultimately has bedded first - is tapping his foot over and over again.  It's the sort of moment that can wake up even those handful who may fall asleep watching the film (and I'm sure there are a few of you out there on your couches or in the revival theaters).  That makes its mark for sure.

In other words, these characters can talk, and certainly Adrian can talk in such a way that people call him out on it as monologue (and in such a way that may be improvised - I see this actor along with the lady playing Haydee, with her own character's name as her own, and Daniel, have writing credits for dialog as if it were a mumblecore movie, which this most resembles if I had to break it down), and I think the whole approach is that the talk is all to obfuscate the emotions, that all of the intellectual processing and thought that Adrian puts in to what's going on puts aside anything that can ACTUALLY make people feel like love and compassion and care.  For him, it's all down to logic and how to plan this or that.  It's not a love triangle if there isn't a sense of any possibility for love, whether it's for Adrian (who slowly sees his "moral" compass going to the side, or Haydee who says she isn't interested, and we can believe her because, well, she's believable!)

But I knew I had seen a film that had something to say about how men look at women and use them for their own feelings and projections, and intellectually that is greatly intriguing to me.  So I went as soon as the film ended to Roger Ebert's page, where he puts this among his "Great Movies" list (a bold banner for sure).  This seemed like an astute observation:

"(The characters) live at a languorous pace. The men decide she is a "slut," because they assume she sleeps with the revolving roster of guys who take her into town. When a rich art collector visits the villa to look at a vase Adrien is selling, Adrien essentially offers her to the older man. The way she handles that speaks well for her insight into the situation."

This may be so.   There's more detail Ebert goes into, and I think that thematically La Collectionneuse is thematically rich - how men have their own point of view and projection of how they want to see women in a certain way.  Adrian's already seen off his girlfriend, who wants him to join her in London and says he can't because, well, "work" as he puts it, but is it really?  He spends the rest of the film on this "vacation" (which, as we know from Forrest Gump, is actually when you go somewhere and you don't ever come back, so in a state of mind sense you don't ever really *want* to go back to where you are while away, if that makes sense), and justifies how he sees Haydee because... well, (gasp) she sleeps with a lot of men(!)

Context may be something here, as it's 1966 and morality in this time was changing, and Rohmer's film is a reflection of that, how men are trying to open themselves up to new experiences, but social mores and what life and institutions have taught about how to be with another person, how to connect, changed in this decade for France and others across the world.  And there's Daniel as well, who is more like a go-with-the-flow kind of guy, but can put up a hissy fit... which to Adrian seems like a put on.

So there is a LOT here to consider and think about, though this is mostly after the fact (apt considering Rohmer was a film critic and may have still been in that critical mind-frame by this point).  I'd be lying if I said I didn't find some of this dry, in part due to a lack of any music in the film; the narration, one might say, is the kind of music that Rohmer's peppering, but I'm not convinced.  It's that prejorative word "talky" and lacks the sort of visual fluorishes that his Cashiers du cinema contemporaries had.  One might say he's more of the "adult" than the kidding around/revolutionaries of Godard-Truffaut-Rivette.  In the case of this film it takes, or did for me, for a few minutes, some adjusting to get used to.  But once I got into its rhythm I found much to admire substanatively, even as things are so subdued and played for realism it edges into that terrible word I don't want to use: boredom.

But then it's *about* characters who can possibly get bored, so...

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