Eric Rohmer: Film as Theology by Keith Tester

By Keith Tester

Because the Fifties Eric Rohmer has been one of many significant presences in French cinema as critic and director. This booklet is a worldly engagement along with his paintings within which Keith Tester argues that Rohmer isn't the naïve realist he's usually claimed to be. Instead, his motion pictures are published as a sustained workout in Catholic theology.

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Whereas in the political event there are shared and agreed (even if not desired) definitions of the situation, in the catastrophic personal event, the definition of the situation is fractured. Consequently, the heaviness of a film like The Lady and the Duke is replaced with a pervasive sense of irony. At a couple of places in The Marquise of O, there is a chorus of doubters who are either sceptical or incredulous about the story that is unfolding before them; such a chorus never appears in The Lady and the Duke because the French Revolution made everything extremely lucid.

It is the miracle as a catastrophe that is political because it sucks in any, and potentially every, man and woman, and thus unravels without regard to the person. For example, at the beginning of the film the Duke of Orleans is a hero of the Revolution and later votes for the execution of the King, but he is soon forced to understand that, as he says to Grace Elliott, ‘I am no longer master of my name or my person’. What happens in the course of the tragedy is that, just like the Duke, Grace Elliott is transformed from bystander into agent and, as the Revolution becomes a catastrophic event beyond the control of persons, she becomes an object waiting to be consumed.

More strongly yet, it might be said that everyday life can never be satisfying except in the most illusory and deceptive of ways. The point about the miracle is that because it is an event that can be lived through to its end, it points towards the fulfilment that is called real life. But, and this is the root of tragedy, that real life involves so intense a suffusion of meaning into the everyday that ‘no one would be able to bear it, no one could live at such heights – at the height of their own life and their own ultimate possibilities.

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