Director: Éric Rohmer
Writer: Éric Rohmer
Cinematographer: Néstor Almendros
Producer: Pierre Cottrell and Barbet Schroeder
by Jon Cvack
I’m five films into Rohmer’s Moral Series and while Love in the Afternoon is the best I’ve seen from the filmmaker, The Bakery Girl of Monceau and Suzanne's Career are misogynistic texts. All films thus far involve men who are on sexual conquests or cheating on their spouse, none with concern for the woman.
The story takes place across a month’s worth of time, from June 29 - July 29, in the idyllic location of Lake Annecy, where a diplomat Jérôme Mont Charvin (Jean-Paule Brialy) is spending a summer before he gets married. He meets up with his old friend and novelist Aurora (Auora Carnu; playing herself, kind of), who’s landlady Madame Walter (Michele Montel) has a fairly pretty and precocious daughter, Laura (Beatrice Romand). It’s not just that she’s young, but that she looks young - her body still petite, showing only the earliest signs of what she’ll look like as a mature woman.
Laura begins flirting with Jérôme, leading him to reciprocate, where soon the two start making suggestive comments to one another. As creepy as it is in context, Rohmer has by this point in the series been able to transcend his more objectively immoral male central characters in favor of ambiguity. Jérôme is presented as such a good and decent man, even confiding his affection and desire for Laura (and later Claire) to his friend Aurora. His entire performance is above board, maintaining his charming and polite demeanor.
It’s only now that I’m beginning to see the trend of a central male characters struggling with a complex moral dilemma regarding the woman they want versus the woman they have (and why the series has its name). Reading a bunch of Dawkins recently, from a biological standpoint males are motivated to spread their genes to as many females as possible with minimal concern with the consequences, since they don’t have to physically deal with the pregnancy. They can get twenty women pregnant a year, and it doesn’t matter. This translates to matters of promiscuity and cheating in that, for men, the risk of consequences is relatively low as compared to those of a woman. It’s why, counter to men, women are attracted to successful guys rather than basing it on looks alone - wealth demonstrates that the males will provide security and loyalty to the child. On the other hand, how many men simply fall for the most attractive women they can find, not at all concerned about success or faithfulness? Whatever your feelings, this is predominantly a problem amongst men, as most recently demonstrated by the recent Ashley Madison hack in which it was revealed that the vast majority of cheaters were males.
While Claire’s Knee is bit creepier in scope, it feeds off this exact idea. A male who’s seemed to have a rather exciting bachelor life is finally getting married, possibly because it’s getting harder to meet those younger twenty/thirty-something girls. He then meets Laura, who’s flirty and sweet. Age is the law, but to limit finding something beautiful because of age is next to impossible. If you saw a beautiful person who looked like they were in college, only to find out they’re in high school, the only thing that’s changing your opinion is the law. And that’s fine and how it should be, but that initial thought - simply the attraction and desire - is a very real possibility; one which most should ignore due to the laws. Jérôme is a creep for pushing it past that point, ignoring what it all means because of an attraction, rather than considering the consequences.
Stay tuned for Part 2...
BELOW: A brilliant and cringey scene as a grown man attempts to talk about the philosophy of love to his much younger crush
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