To isolate a particular Eric Rohmer film as a lesser or greater work is an elusive, intangible business; rather like stating a preference for Coca-Cola from a glass bottle over that from a can. You can’t quite explain why it’s better, but you know, nonetheless, that it is. Critics of this French New Wave veteran claim that he has been making the same film over and over for the past forty years. Many of his supporters wouldn’t disagree. In his predictably insightful entry on Rohmer, David Thomson quotes the director on the rationale behind his highly successful contes moraux series:
"Instead of asking myself what subjects were most likely to appeal to audiences, I persuaded myself that the best thing would be to treat the same subject six times over. In the hope that by the sixth time the audience would come to me!"
With a few notable exceptions (Perceval le Gallois and the recent The Lady & the Duke being two), Rohmer has always worked within the thematic boundaries of a particular series; an approach which yields variable results. On the one hand it lends each film a strength and resonance beyond its own individual merits, a kind of safety in numbers, but on the other it will inevitably lead to comparisons within the group; favourites will be isolated, but so will underperformers. Part of the ‘Comedies and Proverbs’ series, A Good Marriage (1981) lacks lustre when compared with the luminous The Green Ray (1986), which many judge to be Rohmer’s best work of this series, if not his entire career.
Sabine (Beatrice Romand) is a student of Art History who, as Rohmer himself points out in the too-brief but interesting bonus interview on this DVD, is increasingly frustrated that she cannot find a suitable medium in which to express her creative and artistic urges. She is also, more crucially, determined to find a man and make a good marriage after ending an affair with Simon, an artist with a wife and family of his own.
It is this conviction which leads her to pursue Edmond (Andre Dusollier), the cousin of her best friend (and sometime artist) Clarisse (Arielle Dombasle), who works as a lawyer in Paris. Following an introduction from Clarisse at a party, Sabine jeopardises her job by enticing Edmond to visit her in Le Mans on the pretext of buying an antique. Despite only cautious flirtation from Edmond over one lunch, Sabine decides that she will marry him, going so far as to announce it to her mother and plan out the ceremony.
Unlike Rohmer’s better moments (The Green Ray and Claire’s Knee in particular), A Good Marriage is a very straightforward affair. It is not so much that nothing happens, but that not enough nothing happens. Sabine is as verbose as any Rohmer character, but the fact that she is so driven (or rather so convinced that she has to be driven) and less given to diversion means that events progress in a more linear and thus less interesting way.
That said, the film is carried off with customary wit and charm, both verbal and visual. And during a climatic scene with Edmond, in a brief moment of realisation when her delusion is pricked, Sabine becomes both complex and sympathetic in a way that few film-makers could manage. Like Rohmer’s obsession with series and thematic grouping, her need for structure and limitation is in itself an admission that life is a rather confusing, chaotic thing.
The disc itself is unremarkable, with only the aforementioned interview as an extra, but the more Rohmer released on DVD the better.