Tuesday, January 19, 2010
Eric Rohmer, French film critic, novelist and film director, passed away on Tuesday 12th January, 2010 at the age of 89. As it often happens with individuals who are detached in presence and self-effacing in greatness and hence are taken for as reassuring and perhaps, even for granted, the loss has suddenly put an unprecedented focus singularly on the man’s life. It was here once again that Rohmer’s typical, charming elusiveness that lit his works now also seemed to light his life. The more you got closer to the individual, the more he obfuscated into light.
Eric Rohmer was a painted horizon against the backdrop of which great moments have been played out by great players standing forth and delivering their lines. As a film critic, he was instrumental in appraising and canonizing the films of Hitchcock and Hawks, which were then neglected by the contemporary critics as populist cogs along the Hollywood assembly line. As the editor of the magazine Cahiers Du Cinema during its most legendary phase, he gave platform and calmly stood behind the caustic and iconoclastic ideas of the young Truffauts, Godards, Chabrols and Vardas. He honed them so that they became legends of their own right and ideas about cinema were altered forever. After all, where would Arnold Schwarzenegger be without the jump-cut?
But who was Eric Rohmer?
He was born Maurice Henri Joseph Schérer. His first writings were published under the nom-de-plume ‘Gilbert Cordier’. ‘Eric’ he borrowed from the great German film-maker Erich von Stroheim and ‘Rohmer’ he added from Sax Rohmer, creator of the Fu Manchu stories. For those who want to believe against the man there are more than ten versions of his childhood and growing-up that to choose from. Even on the eve of his death, the names and faces of his wife and children remained anonymous.
Cinema being the most manufactured of all art, Rohmer, baring a few exceptions where he immersed in period and fantasy, stuck to chronicling droll middle-class people leading droll middle-class lives. They were witty exercises in rhythms of the everyday- conversations, picnics, dinners, rendezvous, dates and walking the streets, both alone and together. His critics complain of the films being too talky and minimal or as Gene Hackman snaps in Arthur Penn’s ‘Night Moves’- ‘like watching paint dry’.
But for Rohmer the deceptions, etiquettes and poses of daily life were manufactured enough and our encounters and interactions suspicious enough to strike comedy, tragedy, farce, suspense, drama, twists and revelations and sometimes all together in unforgettable fatal instants like the middle-aged man trying to cope a feel of Claire’s knee in the film of the same name or the sunlight breaking over the beach in ‘The Green Ray’. At his prickliest and raw, he may seem detached even cruel but the complexity and tenderness with which he films his characters and circumstances is all too familiar and human.
After all, even legends have to die. Like he once admitted- all his tragedies were in fact, comedies.