The death of Eric Rohmer earlier today wasn’t necessarily a surprise. At age 89, Rohmer had been reported to be frail — an interview with UK paper the Independent last year found him “gaunt and having skeletal features,” but “in good health.”
He’d announced that 2007’s “The Romance of Astrée and Céladon” might have been his last film; as last testaments go, you couldn’t ask for much better. The film’s critical reception was unaccountably lukewarm: people seemed unwilling to take Rohmer’s 21st-century filming of a 17th-century lyric novel about 5th-century druidic shepherdesses in love at face value.
It shares highlights with a lot of Rohmer’s more representative work, which similarly zooms in on the social mores of our times, in contexts that didn’t necessarily endear him to all comers. Dave Kehr’s surprisingly prickly obituary in the New York Times sees fit to remind us that Rohmer’s movies were “as much about what does not happen between his characters as what does, a tendency that enchanted critics as often as it drove audience members to distraction.”
Rohmer was often used as an example of the ultimate in dry, alienating ’70s foreign films audiences couldn’t get into. As nearly every obituary so far seems to feel the need to note, in 1975’s “Night Moves,” the Gene Hackman character says he saw a Rohmer movie once and it was “like watching paint dry.” (In the novelization, oddly, the potshot was launched at Claude Chabrol.) So Rohmer’s legacy will not settle down quietly or uncontested.
Rohmer’s passing seems to have made more waves than usual for an octogenarian master, becoming, briefly, a trending topic on Twitter (in between #ihungupbecause and #failedpickuplines, which sound a bit like vulgarized Rohmer topics anyway) and inspiring, at least among many of my friends, spontaneous bar gatherings and so on. Rest in peace, New Wave master.
[Photos: Rohmer on the set of “The Romance of Astrée and Céladon,” Koch Lorber Films, 2007; “Claire’s Knee,” Columbia Pictures, 1971]