Le Rayon vert

(Summer, France - 1986)

by Mike Lorefice

Cast: Marie Riviere, Lisa Heredia, Beatrice Romand, Eric Hamm
Genre: Drama/Romance
Director: Eric Rohmer
Screenplay: Eric Rohmer & Marie Riviere
Cinematography: Sophie Maintigneux
Composer: Jean-Louis Valero
Runtime: 98 minutes

The fifth installment in the comedies and proverbs series is a look at modern day loneliness, the dissatisfaction brought on by isolation. As usual, Rohmer is conducting a psychological study on a certain moral choice, remaining alone or going against your principles and settling for a fleeting affair. Delphine is trying to avoid the displeasing until she stumbles across someone fulfilling, but is also living by her own moral code that prohibits easy transitory satisfactions.

Reviews seem to go right for the "difficulty" of the heroine Delphine, wonderfully played by Rohmer favorite Marie Riviere, but I found her completely refreshing and far truer than the easy to like heroines we get a steady diet of. What people desire usually remains elusive; mass marketing campaigns try to convince you otherwise, but their standardization only adds to the problem. I know a lot of people who are far pickier than Delphine, but we simply are not used to seeing a character who won’t settle for whatever is in front of them, regardless of potential happiness. What makes her even rarer is she doesn’t announce her principles; defiance in and of itself isn’t a point of pride. Despite her intelligence she fumbles for the words to express herself, and in the end winds up clumsily abstaining.

Delphine always sees through things very quickly and knows what’s not for her, but finds it terribly difficult to find what she does enjoy. She can tell what the new men she meets are after, but she doesn’t want any superficial one-night stand type of relationships. Some of them would at least yield more happiness than sitting alone in her room crying, but the falseness of it all negates whatever temporary satisfaction she might garner.

Delphine can't make up her mind how to amuse herself in the absence of the people she wants to be with, which in the case of her "boyfriend" is now going to be permanent. Her vicious cycle begins when her friend bails on their planned vacation, resulting in Delphine spending the summer bouncing from one uncomfortable situation to another. As the film transports us from one empty consumerist paradise to another, we see the various ways their vacuousness weighs on the forlorn heroine. Though she rejects what the surroundings have to offer, her defiance distracts her from what life has to offer, and she becomes fixated on the various facades.

As in real life, no one understands her and rather than being helpful their advice just places unwanted pressure on her. Delphine exists in a perpetual limbo between a theoretic permanence that would make her happy and the world of casual relationships and quick and easy amusements she finds wherever she travels. Her inability to find what would please her keeps her passively searching, but in the meantime her unwillingness to participate constantly puts her at odds with those around her.

Delphine not only refuses to go along, but is pouty and weepy. People who don’t like the film tend to want Delphine to be like them, having no sympathy for her because she’s not lacking in opportunity. But it’s not quantity, it’s quality. Someone else can be happy by floating from one thing to another, but happiness can only come to Delphine by being true to herself. For her it’s about personal integrity and dignity. Her choice is to seek the greatest reward, but that entails suffering alone through many miseries.

Delphine has a strong desire for companionship, but the harder she tries the more she sees the shallowness of those around her. Rejecting the impermanence of the bond, she consistently prefers solitude. However, this seclusion breeds an insufferable loneliness, increasing her frustrations, emptiness, and sense of loss.

The original title Le Rayon vert is taken from Jules Verne's novel named after the optical phenomenon. Delphine is depressed, but she’s also an incredibly hopeful character who expects to find a bit of magic any day. She believes the green ray that will be the sign when she finds the right man, the true love of her life. But Delphine is so determined to find him she’s sacrificing everything else, letting the present pass her by while she places all her hopes on a man she hasn’t found yet.

This is the only film Riviere has written, and the urgency of her gloomy despair feels remarkably personal. Much of the dialogue was improvised, a major departure for Rohmer. His characters normally express themselves with a poetic grace and elegance unmatched in cinema. Maybe you prefer Ernest Hemingway, but the world is much richer for also having the elaborate writings of Henry James, who believed quality was found in recreating the conversations of an intelligent man, but was so smart he seemingly spoke at a level thousands of times above anyone else. Summer shows Rohmer can excel in a sloppy style as well, a style that happens to perfectly fit Delphine’s character. She stumbles over her words because if she’s figured out her true desires she certainly hasn’t figured out how to find others that possess these traits, and ultimately attain a longtime bond with them. Most of Rohmer’s films are introspective, but usually his characters play elegant philosophical games. Delphine lacks their desire to simply fake her way through, and is too concerned with her own unsolved quest to clearly elucidate her thoughts. Indecision becomes a bit of a disability as she elevates the importance of finding a boyfriend to the point it becomes the crucial one for the rest of her life, thus rendering her unable to make it because she’s so afraid she’ll be wrong.

The innate human fear of taking the leap allows Rohmer to constantly elevate stories others feel are too slight to film, to make a consequential study of life on the planet through something seemingly as inconsequential as how a fictional character will pass their summer. Rohmer's brilliance is perhaps in showing the agonizing difficulty of what generally comes easy in entertainment, and doing it in such a subtle way that it never seems a predefined explanation or a convenient cop out.



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