Pythagoras got the measure of Hercules by simply sizing up a foot (‘ex pede Herculem’).
So what of that giant of French cinema, Éric Rohmer (1920 to 2010)?
Confronted by the great strength and many labours of the Nouvelle Vague’s most consistently brilliant director, might one fathom the scale of his achievements by playing the 10 features that comprise Arrow Academy’s re-issue of The Éric Rohmer Collection?
This stylish box set improves upon the anthology of the same name released more than 12 years ago. Alongside such miniature masterpieces as The Green Ray (1986), Pauline at the Beach (1983), and The Aviator’s Wife (1981), we are also now treated to the Arthurian tale, Perceval (1978), the delightful portrayal of female friendship, Four Adventures of Reinette and Mirabelle (1987) – and, for the first time in the UK, The Tree, the Mayor, and the Mediatheque (1993).
The only fly in the milk is that the excellent Love in the Afternoon (1972) has been swapped out to make space. But even this affront to naked self-interest is entirely consistent with the biggest Rohmerian riddle of all: ‘we can’t have everything, can we?’
It’s a rhetorical poser explored by many of Rohmer’s characters while contemplating their own loneliness, loyalty, faith, jealousy, and ambition.
This territory they explore is literal and metaphorical, as they exchange endless words and gestures while employing every available mode of transport. Characters walk, drive, cycle, and sail to and from the places where they hope such exchanges are most likely to take place – producing sudden and surprising encounters from a precisely-drawn map.
The perpetual back-and-forth lights up Henri Cartier-Bresson’s observation that, “…the world is movement, and you cannot be stationary in your attitude toward something that is moving”, and provides a kind of transcendent logic to purge (almost) everything from the mise-en-scène that is not of the here-and-now.
By working with natural light, diegetic sound, and non-professional actors, Rohmer provides an antidote to the bright lights, big names, and mood music that can bring slow death to self-conscious film-making.
This achievement might be small, but it is significant and enduring – and puts one in mind of the twelfth and final labour of Hercules.
After storming Hell, Hercules pulled Theseus from the chair of forgetfulness where he would otherwise have sat for all eternity. Rohmer, for his part, did not so much storm as lay siege to 20th-century cinema by showing those watching from comfortable seats that mental and physical inactivity breeds, in the words of William Blake, “reptiles of the mind”.
We can’t have everything, but we must keep moving.
The Éric Rohmer Collection is out now in a 9-disc Blu-Ray set, released by Arrow Academy.
LIMITED EDITION CONTENTS
- Limited edition Blu-ray boxed-set (2,000 copies)
- High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentations of ten Éric Rohmer features: The Aviator's Wife, A Good Marriage, Pauline at the Beach, Full Moon in Paris, The Green Ray, My Girlfriend's Boyfriend, The Marquise of O..., and exclusive to this collection only: Perceval, Four Adventures of Reinette and Mirabelle and The Tree, the Mayor and the Mediatheque
- Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard-of-hearing
- Introductions to The Aviator’s Wife, A Good Marriage, Pauline at the Beach, Full Moon in Paris and The Green Ray by Éric Rohmer
- Brand-new appreciation of Rohmer by filmmaker and actor Richard Ayoade, recorded exclusively for this release
- Nestor Almendros: Director of Photography, an hour-long French television documentary profile of Perceval, The Marquise of O... and Pauline at the Beach’s cinematographer
- Two full-length episodes of the French television series Ciné regards devoted to the making and release of Perceval
- Effraction: Tchéky Karyo, an hour-long French television documentary profile of the Full Moon in Paris actor
- On-set report from the making of My Girlfriend’s Boyfriend
- Archive interview with Bruno Ganz on The Marquise of O...
- Archive interview with André Dussollier on The Aviator’s Wife
- Archive interview with Claude-Jean Philippe and Caroline Champetier on Pauline at the Beach
- Archive interview with Arielle Dombasle on Pauline at the Beach
- Archive interview with Pascale Ogier on Full Moon in Paris
- Archive interview with Marie Rivière on The Green Ray
- Archive interview with Joëlle Miquel on Four Adventures of Reinette and Mirabelle
- Audio interview with Rohmer
- Changing Landscapes, a 1964 documentary short directed by Rohmer
- Trailers for The Aviator’s Wife, A Good Marriage, Pauline at the Beach, Full Moon in Paris, The Green Ray and My Girlfriend’s Boyfriend
- Newly commissioned artwork by Matt Griffin
- Limited edition book containing new writing on the film by Jonathan Romney, Geoff Andrew, Philip Lopate, Geoffrey Macnab, David Jenkins, Tara Judah, Sophie Monks Kaufman, Justine Smith, Andy Miller and Brad Stevens.