Rohmer's Non-PG-13 Realism and the Distinct Absence of $$$$

I just finished watching one of the Rohmer films I had not yet seen, L'Ami de Mon Amie.  It was probably one of my least favorites so far, mostly for the same reason that I've never liked A Midsummer Night's Dream much, that being that the plot is kind of b.s.  It features the same sort of couple switcharoo debacle; in Rohmer's case it's not the artifice I mind as much as the cuteness of the ending where everyone is hugging and smiling and laughing at the craziness of it all.  At the same time, I've never seen a Rohmer film that I didn't like, and this was no exception.  Now they just need to come out with a complete box set and get rid of the shitty Fox Lorber versions with the subtitles that you can't turn off and yet are at times obviously wrong to someone who doesn't speak a word of French.

A curiosity I made note of is that almost all of Rohmer's films are rated either R or PG, that is, among the ones that are rated.  According to Netflix, the only one that is rated PG13 is The Lady and The Duke.  Among the not rated I get the impression that most would manage to tiptoe around the PG13 rating as well.  Rohmer's is simply not a PG13 world.  That is, there is either sex and nudity or there isn't.  There is very little violence, "language," or unpleasantness of any kind.  And the atmospheres of the movies that contain sex really seem to differ very little from those that don't.  All of which really makes this world seem quite alien to the world of cinema in general.  

I know some people don't like Rohmer for precisely this reason, the lack of supposed realism.  At the same time, he took pains to follow certain guidelines that represented a kind of realism for him.  For example, he didn't like to use music (though he did at times) in films.  I've always been opposed to the idea of valuing realism for the sake of realism, but of course the methods one uses can be as creative as those corresponding to any other genre; the attempt to genuinely imitate life is always going to come out a little funny, and the stylistic touches become those things that can't be helped, or which represent the creator's specific brand of OCD.  In Rohmer's case I get the impression of realism via a very obvious artifice.  The artifice sometimes includes the plot, and almost always the characters' willingness to talk freely about themselves to one another despite whatever their other differences in temperament may be, but I don't find it difficult to accept because it's very straightforward.

I suppose one way to put it is that I don't think realism is a virtue in and of itself, but how well a director uses realistic devices that he has put in place.  In this way, even the artifice of the voiced inner monologues has a realistic effect.  Because it's something that people do do sometimes.  I think the main reason it's difficult to swallow Rohmer sometimes is because all of the characters, no matter how much they complain of their complexities and troubles, more often than not seem just fine.  They usually have careers that suit them, are conventionally attractive and have little in the way of money trouble.  They may cry, but don't seem truly hopeless.  This is seen as fairy-talish, unworthy of serious art, Sex and the City territory.  And yet their troubles are taken seriously, and even the characters we don't like are presented as interesting human packages.  Their faults are not as bad as we are initially led to believe, or at least they are of less consequence.  I end up feeling gratified not just by the fact that the journey with the characters turns out to be a worthy one, but because in some corner of the artistic world, we are allowed to explore lighter areas of life without taking them less seriously.

I think it's interesting, though, that we don't want rich, attractive, successful people to have complex lives.  I wonder seriously if it has to do more with resentment or with incentive.  I get the impression that in a specifically American context money is associated with blandness for better or worse.  You work hard to be successful so that you either don't have any problems or so you are justified in being incredibly vain and self-destructive.  Hollywood and bestseller stories have frequently been populated with rich, successful people who are haunted by how they got to the top, with opportunities missed and sacrifices made.  In God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater, Kurt Vonnegut took this pattern to its logical conclusion by making a specific sum of money the central character of the novel.  As clever as this premise is and as much as I enjoy Vonnegut's writing in general, I would most of the time rather watch Rohmer.  I'm sure some of it has to do with the brighter atmospheres, but I think it has more to do with the exciting prospect of all the uncharted dramatic territory in which money does not play a central part.  A nice counterpoint to sentiments expressed earlier.


  1. The PG-13 rating wasn't introduced until 1984 (For "Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom incidentally), but you bring up an interesting point!

    1. Hmm, that's interesting as well. I had no idea.