Love In The Afternoon

cast: Bernard Verley, Zouzou, François Verley, Daniel Ceccaldi, and Malvina Penne

director: Eric Rohmer

97 minutes (15) 1972 widescreen ratio 16:9
Arrow DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 8/10
reviewed by Paul Higson

Who but a Frenchman could get away with a feature film about a man who almost has an affair? Frédéric (Bernard Verley) is contentedly married with a beautiful wife, Hélène (François Verley), and a second child on the way in the final instalment of Eric Rohmer’s Six Moral Tales series, Love In The Afternoon (aka: L’Amour l’après-midi). His job in the city is a responsible one but not unduly taxing on him, he talks of having the freedom of time and thought but deliberately fixes himself in the office with sandwiches and hounds himself on the beauty of the many fabulous women he passes on the way to the office, the two secretaries on arrival and serving him in the shops, “to classify her (each woman) as one of the elect or one of the damned.” He narrates trying to convince himself of his enduring appreciation of his wife and her beauty, her talents beyond the natural, raising a child and studying at the same time. When finally venturing out for a coffee with an associate his problems are identified as “afternoon anxieties,” that ungovernable hour in the afternoon that points forwards and asks backward, a universal lull – irrespective of timelines – that everyone must contend and do battle with. It is that trip over period when the long day ahead becomes the short evening into the next day, and a fear that the rest of your life is going to race away in the turns of this wheel. “I see my life passing by, as others unroll next to me.” It is the time to get out the office, do something alternate, catch up with the past, have an affair, change your life and alter your mind. Easier said than done, but this is Frédéric.
Returning to his safe every-world is Chloé (Zouzou), a dangerous thing that has chased him up having been reminded about him following an encounter with a mutual acquaintance on the Metro. Chloé is the woman his best friend tried to commit suicide over and, a former model, she is back in Paris following an unsatisfying relationship with an artist in America. Her infrequent appearances and telephone calls to the office have the apparently desired effect on him and his demarcation lines go into slow collapse. Chloé is a girl with a game, a damaged creature, she loves but bores easily, is looking for that thing that will settle or kill her, and as distant as the latter is to her it seems closer than the former. Frédéric’s natural guardedness is ideal to her. Though clearly interested in her he has pegged himself down with tethers in the office and home. It means that he can be kept on the periphery of the personal, that as a friend and potential lover he may be around longer, the occasional reliance that bridges the periodic unsettling. But in not being an official part of her life her disappearances are maddening to him but return she does, luring him more intimately nearer with each reconnoitre. He feels objectified, discarded. Then she pitches her latest dangerous idea to him for a steadying prop in her life; that he provide her with a child.
The ironic Love In The Afternoon became more accurately re-titled Chloe In The Afternoon in the US, it is suspected to avoid any confusion with the 1957 Billy Wilder and Audrey Hepburn film. It is told in diary form, a period of some seven months excised of the unimportant weekends, the calendar by the office door clearly dating each development. Though told in small incidents and subtle encounters so much is said and done in 97 minutes that the beginning seems an incredibly long time before and not the seven months over which it is told. It is a sign of a running time well filled.
These are striking characters, almost courageously defined, characters not met elsewhere before or after yet so clearly drawn that we ably assign ourselves to an understanding of them, to fit them, exciting to some viewers, perhaps unsettling for others, what with the tormented reining in and the too much said. It is told with wit, and it needs it for Frédéric, following the rule that all French men are ugly, resembles Martin Clunes filtered through Joss Ackland, so he needs something that parlays with attraction. Funniest is the fantasy scene following his café window ogle of the women passing by. Imagining a clever medallion device that makes him irresistible to women he sees himself on a traffic island approaching each in the manner that addresses their respective circumstance, be it busy, in company or in a hurry. “Do you have a hour to waste? (Yes) Care to waste it with me?”
Even Hélène has to agree that Chloé “has something.” In the case of French women it is an extra something, the women throughout Love In The Afternoon are perfect in their imperfection. Chloé is a fascinating breeze, helped by reducing all the other female roles’ screen time. The story could so easily have enquired into Fabienne’s (Malvina Penne) easy up and down love life experienced through short telephone calls and small admission, or the magical insouciant manipulations of the boutique assistant (Iréne Skobline) from whom Frédéric buys a shirt. Even the role of the wife is kept to the back though she is naturally ever present. An initially stunning skinny, stable and intelligent, Hélène doesn’t have the contours or the obviously fascinating discordance of Chloé. Hélène is apparently less interesting, though she too may have her other side.
Barely have I begun and yet there is still so much that can possibly be said about Love In The Afternoon. Discover and say it for yourself. The turtleneck sweaters and frocks that look like cashier wear never overcome the outdating, but the magical central arondissments of celluloid Paris never fail in their ability to enchant. The occasionally rising minimalist electronic music naughtily adds a weirdness that is unmet, though others may decide a film about the intellectual struggle towards an affair may be strange enough.
The DVD additional features include the original French trailer and a bonus short film by Eric Rohmer, Veronica And Her Dunce (aka: Veronique et con cancre) from 1958, in which a young teacher (Nicole Berger) meets her pupil (Alain Delrieu) who is to be taught in the home, warned, by the mother (Stella Dassas), not to do all the work for him. The child is impossible, writes in a scrawl, obstructs, is uncooperative, tries nothing, and, when forcing his educator to take the lead, does no more than infuriatingly chug along like a train. As we are only witness to the first lesson we can’t even be certain he is telling the truth when he claims that mother instructs no more than one hour a day of lessons, we feel only relief, along with the young teacher, and prefer to go with it, quickly terminate the instruction, doubt even that the young woman will return. It does not have time to take off as a story, is a mildly amusing sketch at most. It is another fabulous package from Arrow, and the label has more Rohmer films on the way. I look forward to them.