Following their first collaboration with last spring’s French Cinema’s Secret Trove, legendary French film magazine Cahiers du Cinéma and the French Institute Alliance Française (FIAF), New York’s premiere French cultural center, have partnered again to present the CinéSalon film series Eccentrics of French Comedy. Running from January 6 to February 24, the series features a selection of rarely screened French comedies selected by FIAF’s Delphine Selles-Alvarez and Cahiers du Cinéma’s Jean-Philippe Tessé and Nicholas Elliott.
Indiewire is pleased to be partnering with FIAF and Cahiers du Cinéma to present reviews of films in the series originally published in the magazine and available here in English for the first time with translations by Nicholas Elliott, the magazine’s New York correspondent.
This review of Jacques Rozier’s “Du côté d’Orouët” was originally published in Cahiers du Cinéma no. 507 in November 1996. It was written by film critic and historian Joël Magny. Screening details are here.
Why does Jacques Rozier’s cinema always appear to us as a nascent cinema, hatching before our eyes, in an eternal renewal? One does not see a Rozier film “again.” Each time is like the first time. Like watching the Lumière brothers’ films. Like watching the greatest films by Pialat, whose sustained admiration for Rozier and the Lumière brothers were among the few he was known to have.
This feeling, which anyone can experience for himself, certainly comes from Rozier’s way of seeing the shoot as utterly contemporary with the invention of the script, and the finished film as a trace of this shoot and the surfacing of truth. But it is also intimately linked with the very matter of Rozier’s cinema.
Three young women on holiday on the coast of Vendée, waiting for the moment they’ll have to go back to work in Paris; a young man waiting for his orders to Algeria (and the war), wandering the Côte d’Azur, then Corsica, with two girlfriends (Adieu Philippine); a boy who defiantly throws his schoolbag in the river at the beginning of the school year goes searching for it, wastes his time but finds himself at the same time. Each plot and every moment of all of the films consists in postponing a fateful moment that will reveal the fragility of the present moment (which is already past as soon as it is mentioned) to dive into the unknown, sexuality, violence, maybe death. Hence the highly distinctive temporality of Rozier’s cinema, of which “Du côté d’Orouët” is typical.
At the beginning, things rush along: the office, vacation plans for the rapidly approaching holidays, the house, the trip there — the arrival in Saint-Gilles-Croix-de-Vie (“du côté d’Orouët,” near Orouët) brings an initial slowing down: the suitcases are heavy to drag along, especially if you have to use one hand to hold up a flagging pair of pants. What happens next takes a quotidian pace, alternating between fun moments of hysterical laughter and rest time: discovery of the house and the clogs, getting plastered, waffles, shrimping. As it nears its end, the film expands, not so much because of its length (it is Rozier’s longest film) but because its characters are experiencing this period as an expansion as feared as it is desired.
Joëlle (Danièle Croisy) feels that way because Kareen’s evening with Patrick (Patrick Vende) is lasting a little too long, then Kareen (Françoise Guegan) does because the Patrick business is slowly coming apart, and Gilbert (Bernard Menez) does because the three young women and especially Joëlle are gradually exhausting his goodwill and his simultaneously hidden and overly blatant feelings.
This coincidence of subjective time and the film’s rhythm — with its surges of momentum, its stalling, its abrupt rebounds, its apparent returns to square one, of which the car ride in Adieu Philippine and the coming and going of pick-up artists in Blue Jeans are perfect examples — contributes to the impression that “Du côté d’Orouët” is self-evident, caught on the spot, and natural, but also to the malaise at the heart of Rozier’s cinema.
“Du côté d’Orouët” is Rozier’s New Wave effort “Adieu Philippine” 10 years later, with all that separates the period of the winding-down Algerian War from that of the post-May 68 era. “Du côté d’Orouët” could be a mere sentimental tale in the “New Naturalist” school à la Pascal Thomas. The difference is that Rozier does not film naturally, but concretely. The short film “Paparazzi” marvelously describes the other side of cinema, depicting it as a machine to break the natural and manufacture sophistication. So Rozier films bodies.
In each of his films, a dance scene, often without a direct connection to the plot, pushes this exhibition of the body to extremes. And it is through the body that one captures an era’s political and social determinations.
“Du côté d’Orouët” is directly shaped by two then-recent phenomena: the (critique of) consumerism and the development of feminism. Everything seems to have returned to normal. Corporations seem to have gotten over the riots and barricades of May ’68. With the wave of computers still ahead, electric typewriters are rattling, secretaries are manually arranging files under the orders of little bosses trying to look virile. But once in a bar or restaurant, how do you seduce or even flirt with the women you annoy at work, who have learned to jeer at the virile courtship dance of the office cockerel (supposing they were ever suckered by it)?
A far cry from “Adieu Philippine”‘s Michel, whom “Du côté d’Orouët”‘s Patrick sometimes resembles, Gilbert (played with humor and sensitivity by Bernard Menez) embodies the contradictions of the 1970’s male facing three young women who are themselves confronted with a new situation of which they are hesitant to take advantage.
Ultimately, Joëlle and Kareen’s attention is caught by a classic seducer rather than the delicate but clumsy Gilbert. It’s true the seducer owns a boat, which is a serious advantage when it comes to picking up girls, the primary occupation in Rozier’s cinema: think of those who look on sadly as protagonists of “Blue Jeans” head off to work on their sparkling machines. But freedom is not necessarily related to your paycheck: Joëlle finds herself too fat (the film was once subtitled, “‘A fat chick’s’ holiday journal”). The viewer only needs a single glance at Danièle Croisy’s body to realize that’s far from the truth.
But Rozier does not rely on mockery, which is easy in this domain. In fact, Joëlle winds up going off her diet, doesn’t suffer from it, and will even seduce her low-rent yacht man, for better or for worse (it’s up to her to decide). Hunger here takes on every possible connotation: stomach, economy, sex, etc. (The film was meant to have a more specific erotic background, but this aspect was attenuated once French public television stepped in as a co-producer.)
So while Rozier’s protagonists are hungry to live, they feel fear in their stomachs: fear of being satisfied by what they may not have really desired, fear of being satisfied plain and simple, meaning committed to a path that goes over their heads and that they know is irreversible. While “Adieu Philippine” could be interpreted as a headlong rush to delay the unavoidable arrival of the orders, “Du côté d’Orouët” is a burrowing into childhood to avoid the passage to maturity, from the family home full of memories and the childhood bed into which we curl up to the obsessive fear of eels.
Here, food is the parameter through which every desire, every frustration, and every regret passes. The most beautiful scene is the preparation of a meal — every cinephile and gourmet has already recognized the cooking of a conger — which will require the exhaustion of space (kitchen and annexes), objects (multiple pans and dishes), and time (the entire evening), without forgetting the ingestion of countless bottles of Gros-Plant, all for a rather fruitless outcome: not only do the characters not eat, overcome by sadness or fatigue (or drunkenness, in Gilbert’s case), but the next day the doing of the dishes provokes a decisive clash against a backdrop of inexpressible malaise (in the sense that everyone is careful not to name it).
In this scene, something inexorable takes hold, giving rise to the film’s entire ending: each character’s refusal to commit to what will be the after-film (hence the cruelty of the final scenes depicting the return to Paris). In a word, aging. Neither Joëlle, Kareen, Caroline, and Gilbert (“Du côté d’Orouët”) nor Michel, Liliane, and Juliette (“Adieu Philippine”), neither Brigitte Bardot in “Paparazzi” nor the schoolboy in “Rentrée des classes” really feel like knowing what tomorrow will bring, though they may well feel that the beautiful (?) present is slipping out of their grasp. In Rozier, to rediscover the moment in its fullness and fragility, one must start by losing it, without any hope of returning.