8 Essential Eric Rohmer Films for French New Wave Fans

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Éric Rohmer was one of the members of The French New Wave, the ideological and stylistic cinema movement from France in the ’50s and ’60s. Although other directors like Jean-Luc Godard and François Truffaut might be more famous and revered, Rohmer has had an impressive career of his own, always interested in small stories, with great dialogue, whose characters are much more important than the plot, and who face moral dilemmas that say a lot about the human condition.

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The director, who died in 2010, directed 54 films, expanding from 1954 to 2007. His movies had some experimentation, with both the story and how to tell it. The filmmaker also had some themes in his films, as he did in the Six Moral Tales series, the Comedies and Proverbs series, and the Tales of the Four Seasons series, giving each of its movies a place in a bigger story that he wanted to tell. Here are his most essential films.

8 A Summer’s Tale (1996)

A Summer’s Tale (Conte d’Eté) is the most recent Rohmer film to appear on this list and has at its center, young Gaspard (Melvil Poupard) and his summer in the beach town of Dinard, where he meets three different women, for whom he feels different things. This film might be perfect if you’re in the mood for a Woody Allen kind of movie but prefer to watch someone else’s instead.

A Less Celebrated Film That Still Is Full Rohmer

Love. Sex. Desire. Temptation. Long conversations about all of them and a beautiful beach town. All those ingredients are part of most Rohmer films and also appear here, as the lead, Gaspar, must understand what he really wants, and with whom. Even if it might be one of the director’s less celebrated films, it works great at making you enjoy an easy, breezy movie while longing for the summer months.

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7 The Green Ray (1986)

The Green Ray (Le Rayon Vert) is a rare natural phenomenon that happens at sunset and symbolizes hope and happiness for those few fortunate to see it. After a break-up that has left her devastated, Delphine (Marie Rivière) is metaphorically looking for it, as she needs to heal. She spends her summer between villas, new acquaintances, and nature, trying to overcome her heartbreak and be herself again.

An Incredible Performance by Rivière

Shot on 16mm and with a small crew, Rohmer used most non-actors, other than Rivière, to tell this story about a woman who needs to find herself and heal after a bad romantic experience. The film shows many beautiful beaches, villas, and forests, something the south of France is full of, and it wouldn’t work without Rivière’s performance, as she says much more when she’s alone and doesn’t speak than when she’s with other people having meaningless conversations.

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6 The Aviator’s Wife (1981)

François (Philippe Marlaud) is an aviation engineer who loves his wife Anne (Marie Rivière) very much. One day, he sees her talking to an ex and decides to investigate what’s going on with the help of 15-year-old Lucie (Anne-Laure Meury). Although this plot could sound like a thriller, Rohmer is making fun of the character and his own hangups in this story about love, jealousy, and what happens when people in a relationship want different things and love with different intensity. That’s what The Aviator’s Wife (La Feme de l’Aviateur) is all about.

Another Male Entitled Character Whose Life Isn’t as Great as He Thought

Many Rohmer lead characters share a sense of male entitlement, have money in their bank, and a lot of free time in their hands to overthink everything, and François is no different. What makes this movie interesting is his character’s wife Anne, with an incredible performance by Rivière, especially in the conversation they have at the film’s climax, where the actress conveys all her confusion, love, and inner turmoil with her whole body, words, and even soul.

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Related: The Best Movies of the French New Wave, Ranked

5 The Collector (1967)

Two male friends, Adrien (Patrick Bauchau) and Daniel (Daniel Pommereulle), spend their summer in Saint-Tropez talking, swimming, drinking, and doing nothing else. There’s a third occupant in the house, a teenage girl, Haydée (Haydée Politoff), who they call The Collector (La Collectionneuse), as she has a different man in her bed every night, as if she were collecting them.

One of Rohmer’s Most Feminist Films

Another story that happens in the heat-ridden days of the summer, this movie might be one of the most feminist done by Rohmer (and that’s saying something), as both men become caricatures of themselves, trying to both bed and tame Haydée, who couldn’t be less interested in them, something that their fragile egos might not be able to stand. She’s smart, secure in herself, cultured, and doing everything she pleases when she feels like it. The film was shot almost only with natural lighting by master photographer Nestor Almendros (Days of Heaven), giving it a unique color and style that Rohmer would go back to again and again.

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4 Love in the Afternoon (1972)

Love in the Afternoon (L’Amour l’après-midi) is the sixth and final installment of the Moral Tales and, as such, touches on themes of love, desire, and temptation. Frédéric (Bernard Verley) is a happily married man who feels dissatisfied. When he meets with ex-lover Chloé (Zouzou), he finds someone to talk to, and loves that as they spend an afternoon together. The problem is only being able to talk to her, and nothing else happening.

Rohmer’s Most Sexually Charged Film

As always with Rohmer, this film has great performances with incredible chemistry and great dialogue by both Verley and Zouzou, while pondering the questions of sex, love, and desire. The male character has a perfect life yet can’t stop feeling a passion and desire for his ex, who is tempting him. This film might be the director’s more erotic and sexual, as what in other films is only insinuated here is talked about in the open to make the temptation even clearer.

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3 My Night at Maud’s (1969)

The first feature in Rohmer’s Moral Tales series, My Night at Maud’s (Ma Nuit Chez Maud), tells the story of hyper-devoted Roman Catholic Jean-Louis (Jean-Louis Trintignant) and the night he spends at smart, beautiful, divorcee Maud’s (Françoise Fabian) house. There, they talk about philosophy, religion, desire, theory vs. real life, and everything in between.

It Earned Rohmer Two Academy Award Nominations

Shot in black-and-white and happening in the winter, this is not the usual Rohmer film, as here he wants to say a lot of things about life, love, and philosophy. Even if the film’s central action setter is having conversations and smart dialogue, the film never feels slow or boring, and that’s the merit of the direction and the incredible actors. It’s also one of the inspirations for the mumblecore movement.

This film earned Rohmer two Oscar nominations, not only the Best Foreign Language Film (not the first French Wave director to earn one) but also a Best Original Screenplay, something unheard of for a non-American film back then (he lost to Patton).

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2 Pauline at the Beach (1983)

Pauline at the Beach (Pauline à la plage) is a coming-of-age story about 15-year-old Pauline (Amanda Langlet), who spends her summer in Normandy with her older cousin Marion (Arielle Dombasle). There, they meet Marion’s ex, Pierre (Pascal Greggory), and many more characters that will make Pauline fall in love and in heartbreak, growing up in the process.

The Perfect Entry Point to Rohmer’s Films

A great film where nothing really happens. The director is a master at showing how one spends those days in the summer when there’s nothing to do but be, talk, laugh, avoid the heat, and enjoy life. If you’re interested in starting to watch Rohmer’s films, this might be the perfect entry point, as at its core is a teenage summer love story. One about love, temptation, sexuality, and how not everyone is looking for the same kind of relationship and connection when they meet someone else. If all that isn’t guarantee enough, Quentin Tarantino loves this movie.

Pauline at the Beach is not available for streaming.

1 Claire’s Knee (1970)

Claire’s Knee (Le Genou de Claire) is the fifth film in Rohmer’s Six Moral Tales and is all about desire. This is the story of Jerome (Jean-Claude Brialy), a man who is getting too old to have a desire for two young women who are half-sisters, Laura (Béatrice Romand) and Claire (Laurence de Monaghan), a teenage girl. The film title comes from Jerome’s fascination for Claire and her knee, which he believes is the perfect example of how forbidden she is to him.

It Has Everything a Rohmer Film Must Have

This film is one of Gene Siskel’s all-time favorites, as it has everything that characterizes a Rohmer movie. Beautiful French summer towns, a protagonist with love for every smart and interesting woman, long conversations about what seems like nothing but actually reveals personalities, complex characters who know they’re messing up, and the many variants of the human condition at its most explicit. Rohmer also likes to create lead characters who know they are in the wrong, and yet can’t stop themselves, and Jerome might be one of the best he’s ever written.

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