I saw this Eric Rohmer film when it came out in 1986. It was released under the title Summer, which is a particularly useless title which doesn’t mean much, except that the film takes place during summer vacation and the heroine is preoccupied with how to spend the time.
The French title is Le Rayon Vert which translates to ‘The Green Ray’. This is the name of a long-forgotten novel by Jules Verne which has a great bearing on the film’s entire story arc.
I had nice memories of it but I hadn’t seen it again until TCM (Heaven bless them!) showed it last week. I was bowled over by it.
The plot is very simple: Delphine, a secretary, has been dumped by the friends she intended to spend the vacation with. She desperately tries to come up with alternative plans, because no self-respecting Parisian can remain in Paris during August. All her attempts pan out disastrously. The blame for this bad time can partially be laid at the feet of our heroine. She is second only by Jane Austen’s Emma Woodhouse in her infuriating sense that she is right.
The difference between Delphine and Miss Woodhouse is that, as we slowly discover, Delphine is actually right. Her restless bouncing from vacation spot to vacation spot, her despairing hopes for discovering love are outwardly neurotic, but as we spend more time in her company, we realize that there is something bigger going on here.
Rohmer is the king of the static camera. This allows his characters to sit, discuss, debate and argue in a very Gallic way for a very long time. The conversations are captured by Rohmer with a loving irony, but the beauty of it all is that, for all her comical self-involvement (you should hear her rationalization for being vegetarian!) we realize that Delphine could be teetering on the edge of the abyss. The attempts to have ‘fun’ seem to get more desperate. Her final attempt at fun in Biarritz seems to be heading for the ultimate French bummer. Then a very peculiar thing happens. Love comes to the rescue. We realize that Delphine and her skepticism about happiness was right up until now, but the magical moment in the Biarritz train station changes everything.
Delphine, who has armed herself will all kinds of rationalization that prevented ‘happiness’, finally realizes that now is the time to let go of them and embrace happiness.
At that beautiful moment we realize that she was right all along and our loving head-shaking at her foibles was wrong.
This is the most convincing depiction of falling in love that I can think of, and it comes as a beautiful relief for Delphine and for us.
I was so delighted by the resolution of this film, because at the end you realize that what seemed like a director’s loving look at a neurotic was actually a director showing us a person learning that she doesn’t need her rationalizations any more and that by casting them off, she can be happy. Ecstatically so.
Unfortunately, this film doesn’t seem to be available in a reliable region 1 (USA) edition. Get with the program, Criterion Collection.
In the meantime, if you would like to see it, (and believe me, you would like to see it), I have it on my DVR.