Following My Girlfriend’s Boyfriend in the director’s Comedy and Proverbs series of tales of emotional whimsy, The Green Ray (aka: Le Rayon Vert) is at times stultifying, and almost a challenge (though this is clearly a hetero male viewpoint) in Rohmer’s attempt to make an attractive woman as infuriating as possible, but as she is the story and there for the entire screen-time we have no choice but to put up with her.
Delphine (Marie Rivère) is a decently paid secretary living and working in Paris in the days when everything closed for the summer holidays and one is at the fortnight’s mercy upon that. July should be a pretty safe bet on the weather front, though an unusual chill is hurriedly mentioned in the early minutes. This, one supposes, is to cover the beginning and end of the shoot that landed far outside of July on either side collecting some of the different seasons with it, if the less than perfect summer is anything to go by. There is a boyfriend who is not much of a partner, they have seen little of one another in two years and the loneliness is really hitting home. Then a girlfriend set to accompany her on holiday pulls out on the trip. Delphine behaves like a fretful child. She is picky and infuriatingly reticent, unforthcoming in either play or conversation. When she does find a subject to express herself on it is defensively, having lured others in almost on her polite restraint until they wrong foot on the topic.
Declining Ireland with relatives, her tearfulness gets her the first invite from a friend who takes to Cherbourg with the friend. A continuing turnaround of family and friends at the holiday retreat provide invites and offer conversation, none of who can do little to bring her out of herself so determined in her misery she would appear to be.
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During one stop in the country, Delphine finds a beautiful green corridor leading to an equally fabulous pasture and the discovery of it, unshared by another, the desperate romantic is sent back into tears.
Following a bit of to-and-fro between one holiday destination and another and back to the city it is in Biarritz that she meets a fellow solo traveller, a Swedish girl with a very different take on lone holidaying. However, like others before her, the moment she tries to introduce her to a man Delphine becomes uncomfortable and does a runner, packs and hits the train station. It is here in the last ten minutes that the film redeems itself and a different side to Delphine emerges, surprising herself even, though with behaviour that doesn’t completely dissatisfy the viewer. It is a ‘thank Christ’ development that comes too late, though.
Then you might like myself realise that what you have been following is the story of someone not unlike yourself, someone who does not feel at one with the masses, does not understand how the majority obtain enjoyment from the obvious, someone who has been looking for something exceptional or someone in particular. Even before this you want to excuse her haughtiness only because you share her boredom of the activities and talk that are the retarding traits of vacationing. You will probably agree, that as impossible as she is her reluctance to participate at their dull level had kept her marginally more interesting throughout.
Many French films do this, there are a number of examples in the work of François Truffaut where the true nature, concept, theme, back history or notion makes a belated appearance, only with those films you can look back through the movie and ponder at length on what you have really been watching, and look forward to the next viewing from this new angle. I call these cat’s cradle films. This is not quite the case with The Green Ray. Immediately looking back one sees clearly dull episodes that this new angle can do nothing to alter the effect of, from the sulky silences to the meandering prattle and stupid arguments, it changes them nothing.
Magic realism is given a shot, her fortune told in the ordinary playing card occasionally found and collected from the pavement or a rock, her wariness built upon the picking up of a Queen of Spades, the discovery of a Knave of Hearts more encouraging. Then there is the ‘Green Ray’ itself, in an overheard conversation, yet more romanticism. Green is the last colour visible in the refraction of rays from the setting sun in the atmosphere, given the right weather conditions. With the sighting of the Green Ray comes the answer to a question unasked, and with which everything is explained. The older women discussing Jules Verne’s romantic novel of the title congratulate their elderly male companion over his contribution to the scientific side of the explanation, just like a real scientist, and so he is, played by Dr Friedrich Gunter Christlein.
Writing credits are awarded to both the director and his star, though one assumes that Rivère’s contributions to the dialogue are the ad-libbed flourishes of her passionate arguing. Rivère family members double as her fictional family and this too would appear to be impromptu dialogue that feels both real and wrong for a carefully composed feature film like Rohmer’s. Rohmer’s countryside and seaside are spotless in the camera eye of Sophie Maintigneux. The 1980s’ clothes are as painful as ever, not helped by the director’s liking for the bright, unspoiled colours that were the decade’s dominant fashion non-statement.
Love In The Afternoon made me hope to find the time to watch it again soon and My Girlfriend’s Boyfriend had me looking forward to an occasion I might find for it. The Green Ray, however, I am rating on the assumption that I have got everything I need out of it in one viewing, that I might hope to catch it one day as it hits the Biarritz episode and treat it as the short it would most attractively make.
The extras grant us the original French trailer and a radio interview with Rohmer, reportedly on the subject of the film, cropped down to 8 minutes and 22 seconds. The original interview was recorded at the time of the release of The Green Ray and as a radio coup it’s clear intention was on covering a lot more ground, hence the reason why it is so short, an extract. It should have been left intact. Even so, the extract does include some discussion of his other films, the part music and colour played in them, and is accompanied by some well-selected sequences from those work.