Arrow Film Distributors have started to release Eric Rohmer films on DVD. L’Ami de mon amie/My Girlfriend’s Boyfriend (1987) is the final part of his series of ‘Comedies et proverbes’. The proverb in question is ‘The friends of my friends are my friends’, although it might more aptly have been entitled, ‘Oh, what a tangled web we weave’. This quiet, wry drama of romance between a group of young Parisians is emblematic of his style and preoccupations.
Blanche (Emmanuelle Chaulet) and Lea (Sophie Renoir) meet in a cafe and strike up a casual friendship. Lea is a tall, statuesque brunette, outwardly self-assured and man-hungry, involved in a relationship with Fabien (Eric Viellard). Blanche, rather more demure and lacking in self-confidence, is infatuated with the charming Alexandre (Francois-Eric Grendon). The film pits these characters against each other in a succession of meetings and observes how the friendships stand up to conflicting loyalties.
One of the key aspects of Rohmer’s direction is his ‘invisible’ camerawork. L’Ami de mon amie is shot on film but the end result is so cheap-looking, it could almost be an office training film. The cinematography, by Bernard Lutic, utilises natural light for the most part (or, certainly, the effect of natural light) and the camera tends to remain, on the whole, in mid-shot or at three-quarter length, to film conversations in static set-ups or functional shot-reverse-shots. So perhaps the initial impression we have is of a filmmaker whose movies lack style, imagination, and symbolic resonance – the pleasures perhaps most readily associated with ‘cinema’.
But Rohmer’s flat shooting style is not to be dismissed. As in Bunuel and Rossellini’s work, the plainness allows easy access into the world of the film. Thus in L’Ami de mon amie we witness the unfolding of the friendship between Blanche and Lea in a casual way, so that when the emotional entanglements start to accumulate, the result is compellingly life-like. Consider, for example, the strength of feeling that comes through in the scene in which Alexandre reveals that his type is buxom forty-year-old women, and Blanche, who adores him but is the opposite of his type, realises that she doesn’t stand a chance.
Of course, Rohmer’s technique is as much a style as any other, his choices carefully designed to elicit our responses. There isn’t the space here to enter into a comprehensive survey of ‘realist’ theories. L’Ami de mon amie is well worth seeking out – it’s one of the strongest of Rohmer’s films for its delightfully relaxed presentation of the convoluted nature of the relationships. It manages, as well, to offer a vision of Paris not usually seen on the screen – the tranquil, modern suburban existence played out within sight of the Eiffel Tower. Rohmer is an acquired taste, not so much due to the subject matter or sensibility, but rather because his aesthetic makes the bombastic music and emphatic camera angles and acting of so many other movies seem grossly overdetermined.