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MOVIES: A fond au revoir to French master Eric Rohmer

  When legendary filmmaker Ernst Lubitsch — whose classics include such peerless comedies as “Ninotchka” and “The Shop Around the Corner” — died in 1947, two of his Hollywood colleagues were bemoaning his death.
  “No more Lubitsch,” one of them supposedly said.
  “Worse,” the other replied. “No more Lubitsch movies.”
  Which reflects my reaction to this week’s death, at 89, of French New Wave master Eric Rohmer.
  Unlike such fellow New Wave heroes as François Truffaut or Jean-Luc Godard, the reclusive Rohmer was never really hip or trendy. (And this was back in the days — the ’60s and ’70s — when movies from around the world were hip and trendy.)
  Indeed, putting Rohmer down was practically a professional sport. Critic Pauline Kael once complained about him “directing to a metronome” — a cruel comment for a filmmaker started out as a movie critic (and a great one). And then there was the line uttered in “Night Moves” by detective Harry Moseby (alias Gene Hackman), who observed, “I saw a Rohmer film once. It was kind of like watching paint dry.”
  Only if you weren’t paying attention.
  Whether he was dissecting delicate dilemmas in such “Moral Tales” as “My Night at Maud’s” or “Chloe in the Afternoon” (which inspired Chris Rock’s recent “I Think I Love My Wife”) or exploring the rueful truths of various “Comedies and Proverbs,” Rohmer’s piercing cinematic gaze remained on the characters he so memorably brought to life.
  Of course, his movies aren’t to everyone’s taste. After all, nothing much “happens” in the conventional sense. All the “action” takes place during, and even more in between, all the dithering and dickering his characters do. And yet the very stuff of life — especially how to live it, with or without love — remains at the heart of everything Rohmer did.
  In an interview, director Quentin Tarantino once assessed Rohmer this way: “You have to see one of (his movies), and if you kind of like that one, then you should see his other ones, but you need to see one to see if you like it.”
  That’s exactly what happened to me during my senior year of high school, when my English teacher (bless you, Mr. Sayers) directed our class to visit the local “art house” (a converted swimming pool) over the weekend to see “Claire’s Knee” and write an essay about it.
  Most of my classmates were decidedly nonplussed, and unimpressed, by Rohmer’s tale of a 35-year-old diplomat distracted, attracted — and ultimately obsessed — by the teenage Claire and her irresistible patella. Me? I was entranced, enchanted, astounded at how much I loved the movie — and how much I loved writing about it.
  All these years later, I haven’t had much chance to share my love of Rohmer with readers — especially not in Las Vegas, where so few of his movies ever made it to local theaters.
  So, mostly, I made do with home video (I practically wore out one store’s VHS copy of “Boyfriends and Girlfriends,” I rented it so many times) and the occasional foray to screenings in other cities. (Pure bliss: a pilgrimage to New York’s Alliance Française to catch a matinee retrospective of “The Aviator’s Wife,” which I had never seen. And, boy, was it tough to read subtitles through half-mast, jet-lagged eyes.)
  But when “Autumn Tale,” the final chapter in Rohmer’s “Tales of the Four Seasons” quartet, played Las Vegas, it wound up at No. 2 on my Top 10 list for 1999. (And now that I think about it, it’s given me — and, no doubt, will continue to give me — far more pleasure than my top pick, “American Beauty,” ever did.)
  At the time, here’s what I wrote: “No one creates characters who fall in and out of love — and fall all over themselves in the process — like Eric Rohmer. In the vintage comedy ‘Autumn Tale,’ the deliciously lyrical conclusion of his ‘Tales of the Four Seasons’ cycle, Rohmer demonstrates that his delicacy and grace are undiminished. Like its characters, ‘Autumn Tale’ is by turns maddening, plaintive, giddy and wise, a rich harvest from a master who knows the virtues of passion, the virtues of patience — and how to balance the two.”
  Which serves pretty well as a summary, and a tribute, to Rohmer’s unique je ne sais quoi.
 True, there’s no more Rohmer.
  But, as with all the greats, the movies he leaves behind remain a living, loving legacy to his elusive but undeniable genius.
  Merci, mon ami — and au revoir.

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