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Silence in Eric Rohmer

An Autumn Tale
An Autumn Tale (1998)

From about Full Moon in Paris on, silence plays a major role in Rohmer's work. There are the "functional" silences, as characters, alone, go to work, play, holiday (the ending of Full Moon, the beginnings of the Spring and Summer Contes); there are the symbolic silences, such as the stillness of the "blue hour" in Reinette and Mirabelle or the golden luminance of the "green ray" in Le rayon vert (a ray whose key is that nothing is spoken yet everything is understood); and there is the silence that is always there in the films, existing as the layer beneath all the talk (and that silence sounds loudly, for Rohmer eschews the use of music). And so whilst we can obviously view Rohmer as a comic of manners from the 18th or 17th centuries, or a moralist or romantic from even earlier times (let's not, after all, forget Perceval and Marquise d'O in his oeuvre), he must now stand as one of the 20th century's greatest realists. His realism doesn't speak its name, but its results are there: we see the everyday, we see ordinary people, and ordinary locations, and they are rendered more delicately, exquisitely and, yes, profoundly, than in the films of practically any other director.

© Bill Mousoulis April 2000
This piece first appeared in Senses of Cinema, No.5, April 2000.