Eric Rohmer has died, and at 89 there can be no complaints. I saw maybe 1/3rd of his films, and recall most of them with pleasure – a pleasure marked with the same discrete nature that seemed to mark his work. He seems not to have gone out to knock you out with anything, but rather worked in a quiet craftsmanly way, illuminating the quirks and foibles of mostly middle-class souls. Cinematically he tended to keep things simple, and I always felt a kinship in the hidden off-screen reality that most of the work I saw was clearly the product of a very small crew, using the most basic of tools – a camera, tripod, sound recorder and mikes and I suspect not much else. Lighting seemed often whatever nature or the setting provided. No razzle-dazzle tracking or crane shots, or if so, very few. I related to this, and recall departing from the beautifully shot Claire’s Knee exclaiming to whomever it was I saw it with that it was really an elegantly made home-movie. And that is very much the sense of most of the films I saw – intimate, quietly done, intelligent sketches of a certain kind of home. Back when I saw it, I think my favorite of his films was Le Rayon Vert, which many seemed not to like as its focus was a grumpy not-likable woman who complained about this and that. But at the end she, and the audience, are given a little epiphany which I felt worked wonderfully.
Quite by accident I worked with an actress, Emmanuelle Chaulet, who had done a film with him, My Girlfriend’s Boyfriend (L’Ami de mon amie). Emmanuel played the female lead in my All the Vermeers in New York, opposite Steven Lack. She was wonderful to work with and did a beautiful job at her role. My friend, producer Jim Stark, had suggested her when I decided to shoot in New York, saying only that he knew a French actress who was in town studying at an actor’s studio for the year. We met, I liked her (that is normally my “audition” requirement – meet, talk a bit, and decide I do/don’t like this person; no “acting” needed, or show reels etc.) and we began. There was no script, so we embraced reality and she played, well, a French actress studying in New York! I have no imagination.
Alternating with his “naturalist” or “realist” films, Rohmer also made a number of works steeped in artifice, among them Perceval le Gallois, done on a little stage-set with very theatrical props, and the most recent and last of his films, Les Amours d’Astrée et de Céladon.
In theater of another kind, America continues to fumble its way forward or is it backward – or can anyone really figure out which direction if any, or if it is the stasis of a very bad habit? – from one war zone to another. Having just ordered the US military to shift its focus from Iraq to Afghanistan, Obama suddenly finds it is Yemen and perhaps Somalia which harbor the newest threats to America’s “national interests.” Meantime our “intelligence agencies,” in the form of the CIA assisted by Blackwater/EX, funded with billions of US tax-dollars, find themselves out-foxed by al Qaeda, their FOB Chapman near Khost penetrated and 8 very high ranking and important agents blown-up by a would-be turned double-agent. As one internal report on US intelligence capacities in Afghanistan had it, “I don’t want to say this, but we don’t have a clue.” According to news reports on the agents they just lost, they have now a lot less of a clue. Well, look at the picture below and perhaps it gives all too big a clue as to part of the problem:
Perhaps the military has been infected with the intellectual baggage of 1970-80′s academia, and as in that hot-house of theoretical confusion, they’ve gotten confused about signifiers, signs and all that. The pilots above, decked out in camouflage and combat boots are located not in the rugged mountains of Afghanistan, under threat of engagement with “insurgents” or having to run for their lives in gritty sand and rock, but rather in a “war room” in Langley, Virginia. Their dress is all costume, a rhetorical flourish to assert “we are at war” and once they’ve had their briefing they’ll retire to cubicles to (wo)man their weapons, some 10 thousand miles distant, the Predator drones.
So while America plays a very lethal and ugly video game, decked out in combat fatigues, al Qaeda manages to slip a bomb-vested would-be CIA asset into the heart of the “intelligence” agency’s top secret forward operating base out in the graveyard of Empires. Meantime we read the White House is angry with the military which can’t get the promised 30,000 new troops out there by the summer deadline. Can-do America may be high-tech, but it is so gummed up it’s Can’t Do America now.