Friday, August 3, 2018

Éric Rohmer | La Collectionneuse (The Collector)


someone to preen to
by Douglas Messerli

Patrick Bauchau, Haydée Politoff, Daniel Pommereulle, and Éric Rohmer (writers), Éric Rohmer (director) La Collectionneuse (The Collector) / 1967

Éric Rohmer’s La Collectionneuse, the 4th of his “Six Moral Tales” (it was actually the 3rd of the series made, however) is perhaps one of the most revealing concerning Rohmer’s major concerns in these works and aspects of his own life.
      Although the two males of this tale, Adrien (Patrick Bauchau) and Daniel (Daniel Pommereulle) might like to think of themselves as the moral centers of their world, particularly when compared to their accidental house-mate, Haydée (Haydée Politoff)—an attractive but apparently empty-headed young girl who each night brings home another young man to have sex—they have borrowed their friend Rodolphe’s mansion primarily to evade working and to live out the summer in conditions of intellectual non-existence.
       True, these two friends consider themselves as total intellects—the beautiful Adrien wants to begin an Asian art gallery and the fair-haired Daniel is described by Adrien as a conceptual artist—they are both truly somewhat empty-headed drifters, whose major abilities seem to be in entertaining or even preening themselves to those around them more than accomplishing anything. Indeed, Rohmer evidently selected these two unknown “actors” primarily because they lived the dandyish lives of his own characters. After hours of conversation with the three major actors, Rohmer credited them as co-authors.
     
     If Haydée is, in fact, a “sexual slut” and they later describe her to her face, or, as they and the film’s title describe her, a female “collector” of men, Adrien himself, as a would-be art dealer, is himself a collector of meaningless objects (particularly since he seems to have little knowledge of history or art except what he has been told), just as Daniel is a collector of art ideas which he never truly realizes except in small macquettes, in one of which the walls in a spherical form are protected with razor blades, a metaphor that surely applies to his and Adrien’s own lives.
      They need Haydée to demonstrate their prowess more that she, who will sleep with nearly anyone who looks good, more than she needs them. Yet she allows to basically imprison her in the mansion, refusing to help take her to her various rendezvous or to allow her young men to enter their shared domain.
      Together, they mock her and attempt to pyschologically torture her, Adrien by pretending to be disinterested in her physicality and Daniel by taking advantage of it, making love to her before turning rather violently against her and ultimately leaving the would be “paradise.”
      The self-enchanted Adrien, constantly fidgeting with his hair and presenting himself in various forms of half-nakedness, is perhaps the worst, simply because he is so self-centered that he sees himself as the center of the young girl’s attentions as well, imagining that she has some elaborate plan to seduce him. In the end, it is he who attempts to seduce her, without much success.
        Having refused any of her previous advances, when Adrien makes his move she rejects him—which he believes is merely another move to reel him in. The delusion of these macho-fools should truly the subject of the movie, but since Haydée, herself, is so mindless and purposely self-destructive, it is hard to side with the misunderstood female as well.
       Fixing her up with his possible backer of the gallery, Sam (Seymour Hetzberg), Adrien is even a bit disappointed when she reports that she only shared a boat ride and a pleasant dinner. In short, he has played pimp to the young woman, a role which she joyfully punishes by destroying his priceless Chinese vase, and probably, by that act, nixing any hopes that Sam may continue to support Adrien’s future gallery.
       Finally admitting Haydée’s sexual prowess, he attempts to drive off with her into a sort of romantic sunset; yet she soon encounters friends traveling in the opposite direction, and just as quickly abandons Adrien to travel back the way she has come.
      The slightly chastised Adrien flies off to London where his girlfriend, Mijanou (Mijanou Bardot, Brigitte’s sister) appearing only in the film’s first prologues, has gone, catching the first plane to join her. But we can only suppose, given what we’ve seen of his views of women, that he probably will also fail at that relationship as well.
      We might deduce, accordingly, that the true moral of this story is simply that Adrien should not have left the woman who was best for him in the first place, a story, as are most of the “Six Moral Tales,” about comeuppance. However, as Maura Edmond, in her 2017 review of the work in Senses of Cinema reminds us, Rohmer was himself a kind of dual person, hiding under the identity of a highly religious family man, Maurice Henri Joseph Schérer, who worked as a classics teacher, while actually spending his life (unknown even to his mother) as the famed filmmaker, who hung out with just such Paris starlets and self-enchanted young men.
      In a sense, accordingly, the “morality,” if there truly is any, of this tale turns inward, into a kind of self-observation that uses the director’s “real” lost figures as symbols. And there is a kind of self-revelatory dishonesty, that Adrien reflects, in this, one of Rohmer’s best films.

Los Angeles, August 3, 2018

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