Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Comedies and Proverbs: A Good Marriage (1982)

Béatrice Romand as Sabine

It speaks volumes about the consistency of the Comedies and Proverbs series that I can think of solid arguments for why five of the six films might, in fact, be the best in the series (Full Moon in Paris is far from a bad film, but...well, more on that in a couple of weeks).  It seems that, to some extent, my favorite film in this rich era of Rohmer's career is whichever one I'm thinking about at the moment.

A Good Marriage may have the quintessential Rohmer heroine.  Béatrice Romand was clearly a favorite of the director.  She is, to my knowledge, the only performer to have important roles in all three of the director's major series.  (She played the flirtatious teenager Laura in Claire's Knee and Magali in Autumn Tale.)  It's not hard to see why -- she is an endlessly fascinating performer, one of the most expressive in Rohmer's stable of actors.  His films generally avoid histrionics -- you won't find any "Oscar moment"-type emoting.  Yet without these crutches, Romand manages to express her character's emotional arc plainly and poignantly, even though her Sabine may be the most obviously doomed of Rohmer's heroes and heroines.

Béatrice Romand and Arielle Dombasle

We first meet Sabine when she is the mistress of a painter (Pauline at the Beach's Féodor Atkine.)  In a hilarious over-turning of cinematic convention, she doesn't seem to give a damn that he's not going to leave his wife for her, she just wishes he wouldn't take calls from his kids while he's with her.  Leaving his apartment in a huff, she tells him that she won't be seeing him again as she's going to get married, seemingly as much to spite him as on its own merits.  To whom?  Well, that's to be decided.

This becomes her new mission in life, her day to day "milieu" is no longer satisfactory, she informs co-conspirator Arielle Dombasle (Pauline at the Beach).  She's going to get married, and suggested by her repeated use of her new favorite word, move herself into a higher class in the process.  (All of the Comedies and Proverbs are interested in class distinctions and relations, but this usually find expression in a kind of anthropological curiosity, rather than the anger or revolutionary rhetoric that has at time characterized some of Rohmer's contemporaries.)  Now that the hard part (deciding to get married) is out of the way, all that's left is the relatively easy job of finding a willing applicant for the job, or so she behaves.  Thankfully Dombasle's Clarice has a cousin Edmond who's perfectly qualified.  He's mature, attractive, and as a successful Paris-based attorney, certain to elevate Sabine's "milieu."

Proof yet again that there's no woman so lovely that the 80's couldn't make her look silly.

Thus enters the proverb.  "Can anyone refrain from building castles in Spain?"  Not Sabine.  From the moment she has her objective and target in sight, it's a mission accomplished, as far as she's concerned.  She has her elaborate future planned out, and just assumes that cousin Edmond got the memo.  Why he's not pursuing her is a mystery that she's not going to like the answer to.

Without a stellar lead performance from Romand, this movie could have gone completely off the rails.  Her character's utterly unrealistic expectations of life in general and Edmond in specific could have seemed arrogant, childish, or borderline insane.  Yet Romand invests Sabine with such recognizable humanity that we see both the brave front that assumes Edmond's inevitable capitulation, and the scared woman within that demands more than to be a mistress and store clerk but fears she may not have earned it.


  1. "my favorite film in this rich era of Rohmer's career is whichever one I'm thinking about at the moment."

    Very well put and it sums up why I have such a hard time choosing a 'favorite' Rohmer film. They are all so special and this one is no different. I wish Criterion would do a 'Comedies and Proverbs' box-set to go along with their wonderful Rohmer box from a few years back.

  2. Definitely. I mean the box set from Arrow is nice, and certainly has some nice special features, but this series definitely needs the Criterion treatment.