Like many of the audiences at the National Gallery of Art’s free film screenings I’ve been to, I was one of only a handful of individuals under the age of 60 at the screening Saturday.
Perhaps this is understandable; Rohmer in Paris is a documentary about a dead director who was born 95 years ago, a director whose career spanned more than 50 years—most of those years being before I was born.
And yet with the universality of Éric Rohmer’s portrayal of urban spaces, chance meetings and complicated human relationships, I could not help but wish I had seen more young faces surrounding me in the East building auditorium before the lights dimmed and the projector started.
As with many of Rohmer’s own films, Richard Misek’s Rohmer in Paris centers on individuals crossing paths by chance.
In 1994, Misek inadvertently walked into a shot in Éric Rohmer’s film Rendezvous in Paris while Rohmer was shooting on location on a Paris street. Misek thought nothing of it at the time, not knowing or caring who Éric Rohmer was.
Several years later, however, Misek saw Rendezvous in Paris on television, seeing himself walk across the screen, completely by chance.
It was this, Misek said in his documentary, that set off his obsession with Rohmer’s films and the city he so often shot them in.
Rohmer in Paris is composed almost exclusively of footage from Rohmer’s films while Misek narrates, explaining the significances of framings, characters’ movements and biographical tie-ins of Rohmer’s personal life.
Rohmer’s characters stroll through the Latin Quarter, just as Rohmer himself did in the 1950s, with other contributors to Cahiers du Cinema and future directors of the Nouvelle Vague.
His characters ride busses and trains and commute to and from Paris, each of them having unique schedules and routines, just like the millions of other individuals around them who live and work in France’s most important city.
Misek claims Rohmer would inhabit his characters’ roles, taking their routes throughout the city for several days to get a sense of what they would see and hear.
Rohmer died in 2010 while Misek was still working on Rohmer in Paris. Misek never got a chance to show Rohmer how much his films came to mean to him.
Though my experience with Rohmer’s filmography is very limited compared to Misek’s (I had only seen My Night at Maud’s and La Collectionneuse prior to this screening), I felt like I could relate to his lamentations on losing the man who made all of these films.
When you see so many films by a good filmmaker, it’s not hard to feel like you know the filmmaker personally, even if you’ve never met them. It’s no mark of shame for a cinephile to even come to love them. When Misek says he truly loves Éric Rohmer, I believe him—I too know what it’s like to love artists long dead and gone.
After Rohmer in Paris, the first film in Éric Rohmer’s “Six Moral Tales” series was screened, the 1963 short The Girl at the Monceau Bakery.
This film perfectly exemplifies Rohmer’s style as articulated by Misek in Rohmer in Paris. There are coincidental chance meetings and spaces are navigated in a geographically sound way; you could chart the route taken by the main character on a map of the streets of Paris.
After leaving the auditorium and walking back to the metro on the streets of Washington, D.C., I myself felt like a Rohmerian character, just waiting to bump into some stranger who would change my life in some way.
Featured Photo Credit: Screenshot from Love in the Afternoon. (Courtesy of Flickr user Caspy2003)
Matt Kubisiak is a senior broadcast journalism and film studies double major. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.