The French New Wave saw the emerge of many formidable auteurs such as Jean-Luc Godard and François Truffaut. Among them, Éric Rohmer was also a significant presence whose filmography is endlessly beautifully. Referred to as “the most durable filmmaker of the French New Wave”, Rohmer made several masterpieces over the course of a long and fruitful career.
Some of the most memorable additions to his filmography came in the form of the famous Six Moral Tales. A collection of six films, Rohmer set out to create subjective analyses of the characters while they engage in some pretty condemnable behaviour. For Rohmer, the priority was to uncover what they feel about their own behaviour as opposed to participating in some didactic moral judgements.
Six Moral Tales began in 1962 with a short film titled The Bakery Girl of Monceau which sets the tone for the celebrated features that would soon follow. This short follows a man who falls in love with a woman after passing her by on the street. However, he decides to toy around with another girl who works at the local bakery while waiting to run into her.
In an interview, Rohmer once said: “Every text, it seems to me, allows for two readings: an immediate reading and a reading between the lines, resulting from a deepened reflection, with reference to aesthetic theories. But I don’t think that this simplistic interpretation is worth less than the second. I always thought, even when I was a critic, that the brutal and simplistic reaction of the spectator is a good thing.”
These multiple readings and interpretative ambiguity forms the constant undercurrent of Rohmer’s “moral” tales. More than the conventional definition of the word, these films focus on the banality of evil that is omnipresent. Furthermore, they challenge our preconceptions of what evil is since these characters are absolutely and unapologetically human.
“If there is an ambiguity, it is in the moral tale,” Rohmer added. “There are subjects, ‘sentimental’ subjects, which can only be interpreted in a certain manner, while in my subject, there is a fundamental ambiguity in as much as one doesn’t know who is right and who is wrong, if it’s happy or if it’s sad. This comes from the fact that the cinema has evolved and that it is less unsophisticated, less naive than before.”
Watch Éric Rohmer’s The Bakery Girl of Monceau here.