Rendezvous in Paris
Posted by martinteller on April 9, 2014
Three unconnected stories about men and women meeting in Paris. In “The Seven O’Clock Rendezvous,” Esther’s (Clara Bellar) faith in her boyfriend Horace (Antoine Basler) is shaken when a mutual acquaintance tells her that he’s seen her beau meeting another girl in a café. While at the market, Esther is hit on by a man (Mathias Megard), who she tells to meet her later at that same café. Then chance drops Aricie (Judith Chancel) into her lap, who happens to be heading to the same place… to meet Horace. In “The Benches of Paris,” a professor (Serge Renko) meets up with his would-be lover (Aurore Rauscher), perhaps one of his students, in a series of parks. It is apparent that they have not yet developed a sexual relationship, but the woman is reluctant to get more intimate until she breaks up with her fiancé… an event she is unwilling to initiate, continuously hoping it will occur naturally. And in “Mother and Child 1907,” a painter (Michael Kraft) is set up on a date with a Swedish girl (Veronika Johansson). After a short while, he loses interest in her and drops her off at a Picasso museum, making empty promises for a meeting later. On his way out, he spots a beautiful woman (Bénédicte Loyen) and is immediately smitten. He pursues her back into the museum, awkwardly wiggles out of an encounter with the Swedish gal, and follows his new target. He strikes up a conversation, and discovers that she is Swiss… and newlywed. But that doesn’t stop his ardent efforts to woo her.
I would call this middling Rohmer, which is still better than a lot of other stuff. It’s Rohmer doing what Rohmer does best: exploring relationships with insightful, beautifully composed dialogue. But I feel he works better when he has an entire feature to flesh out his characters, rather than one half-hour segment for each. My brief survey of other reviews suggests that “Benches” is several critics’ favorite of the three stories, but in my opinion it suffered the most from characterizations that are not as fully realized as we expect from Rohmer. Rauscher especially comes off like a construct… as an actress she has a compelling presence, but this character is just a little too phony. Maybe that’s the point, that her persona doesn’t hold up to real situations, but even so I just found her so unlikable that I was getting annoyed. Renko’s character isn’t much better. This segment is basically the La collectioneuse of this set… the insightful observations are somewhat overclouded by the unpleasant protagonists.
Two out of three ain’t bad, though. I quite liked the other two parts of the film. Kraft’s character is also a fairly unlikable guy, but Loyen provides a perfect foil to him. Their back-and-forth is some of the best conversation in the film, revealing plenty without saying too much. And in the first part, Esther is just so earnest and pleasant that you just enjoy watching her, and want to see her navigate the difficult situation she’s in. What’s unusual about this movie besides the structure (an accordionist and a singer — Christian Bassoul and Florence Levu — provide a light-hearted framing device) is that except for a couple of brief exchanges between Esther and Horace, none of the people interacting with each other are really in relationships with each other. The professor and the student are tentatively playing around one, but — to his frustration — haven’t actually initiated anything yet. And so the film is not exactly about relationships after all. It’s more about transitions into and out of relationships. Seduction and flirtation, those movements towards a relationship, whether bold or cautious. On the other end, confrontation or inertia or lack of interest ending a relationship, or halting the potential for one.
It’s also a lovely film, giving us several views of Paris from the graffiti-coated backstreets to the tourist traps. The actors’ movements are an intricate dance, and likely the result of some very carefully considered blocking. Actually just writing about the movie has made me like it a little more than when I started this review. My objections to the middle segment don’t seem as important now (though it remains my least favorite of the three). Like most Rohmer, I’d like to see this again at some point. In fact, it now occurs to me that I’ve never seen any of the films more than once. I should correct that. Rating: Good (77)