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Saturday, May 12, 2018

Éric Rohmer | L'Amour l'après-midi (Love in the Afternoon, also called Chloé in the Afternoon)


the winding, never-ending staircase
by Douglas Messerli

Éric Rohmer (writer and director) L'Amour l'après-midi (Love in the Afternoon, also called Chloé in the Afternoon) / 1972

Éric Rohmer’s films are not so much about their slight stories or plot but are more about characters and the interrelationships between men and women. In that sense, Rohmer’s work is perhaps closer to François Truffaut’s films than those of any other French director. As in Truffaut’s work the males are unknowing bumpkins, trying to please the women to whom they are attracted.
       One of Truffaut’s major figures, however, Antoine Doinel performed by actor Jean-Pierre Léaud, if likeable, is also a kind of bad boy, attempting throughout the five films in which he appears to find a beautiful woman who might care for him a bit like a mother, particularly since his own mother was not so very loyal to her husband and not always loving to the child. But Rohmer’s hero Frédéric 
Carrelet (Bernard Verley) in Love in the Afternoon (titled Chloé in the Afternoon in North America) is anything but a bad boy and is very much in love with his school-teaching wife Hélène and their child; his wife is also pregnant and about to bear another baby.
     That does not mean that the couple have no problems. Frédéric admits to himself and the audience that he is a bit intimidated by his wife, and often playing the clown, feels unable to fully share his ideas with her. Moreover, he does have fantasies about other women, even recounting his youthful fantasy that he had a magical amulet that would make all women bow to his will. But his fantasies are harmless; he has not been unfaithful to wife.
      
     But when the former girlfriend of a close friend suddenly appears in his office, things quickly go downhill. Chloé (Zouzou) is what you might describe as a dangerous woman, a highly independent-minded being with a deep sense of cynicism, a good portion of selfishness, and, admittedly, usually gets what she wants out of men; having dealt with bad previous relationship, she is also somewhat vengeful. The only thing she doesn’t desire is another marriage. But she is clearly seeking sex, and later takes that even further in demanding that Frédéric be the father of her desired child without any of the strings attached.
      Frédéric not only feels comfortable with this attractive woman but becomes quite loquacious, speaking to her openly about his life with Hélène and offering her advice. If at first Chloé seems to want only friendship and emotional support, before long she has manipulated him into shopping with her for an apartment and breaking and entering her former lover’s apartment so that she might collect her clothes and records. And Chloé, it quickly becomes clear, is not as desperate as Frédéric might suppose; she easily gets a job as a waiter in a trendy Paris restaurant, meets a wealthy businessman, and runs off with him to Italy, dumping him there for a young 19-year boy. Upon her return she suggests that Frédéric make time for weekly afternoon meetings which quickly escalate into continued hints that the two have sex without telling Frédéric’s wife. Most people do it every day, she argues; the whole society is polygamous, and hints that his sacred Hélène may be having an affair since she has seen her with another man in one of the major Paris train stations.
       Meanwhile, Hélène gives birth to their second son, Frédéric demanding that she hire an au pair to care for their children. For a period of time he attempts to resist meeting with Chloé, while she succeeds in getting a far better job in an up-scale dress shop, finding a perfect small apartment just above it, to which she now lures her would-be lover. A couple of times he comes close to having 
sexual intercourse, since now they are at the kissing stage, but backs out at the last moment. He suggests another meeting to discuss their relationship, but when he arrives at her apartment he discovers her in the shower, after which she insists he dry her off. He accepts the responsibility, but when she moves off nude to her bed, demanding he join her, he abandons ship, so to speak, racing down a marvelous, almost-never-ending staircase to return to his office, where his secretaries exchange rather knowing smiles.
      But Frédéric, still in flight, simply calls his wife to tell her he will be home early, his meeting having been cancelled. When he finds her alone, they begin a true discussion, which is apparent that they have long needed. She feels “out of sorts,” and suspects something is going on with her husband.
    
     For the very first time, Frédéric admits his silences and his intimidation, while she seems also be expressing something she has long kept from him. When he finally announces that he has something to tell her, you can almost see her bracing for the worst. Hovering, in the corner of their couch she prepares to understand why he has done so many minor strange things lately. For his part, he cannot even perceive her fears or imagine any that he might need himself. He simply admits that he has been able to tale freer with strangers, but that he deeply loves her and their life.     
     In one of the most beautiful scenes of this film, showing the great humanity of Rohmer and a director and Hélène as a character, she begins to cry, all the while insisting that she is simply laughing; yet as he goes to kiss her, holding her gently against his chest, we recognize it as tears of joy, although laughter may surely follow, since they quickly agree to retreat to the bedroom for sex.
        In this film, the last of Rohmer’s “Six Moral Tales,” morality wins out, not just what Chloé has previously described as “bourgeois morality,” but a true inner morality which involves love, kindness, honesty, and faithfulness. Certainly, Frédéric has not told her everything, nor she, possibly, to him. Yet something within them has truly shifted, and we are certain they will become even closer to each other, with the great possibility that Frédéric may in the future be able to better communicate with his wife.    

Los Angeles, May 12, 2018

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