Eric Rohmer, 89

Eric Rohmer, French 'New Wave' cinema filmmaker, dies at 89

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Eric Rohmer, 89, the French director known for "My Night at Maud's," "Claire's Knee" and other films about the intricacies of romantic relationships and the dilemmas of modern love, died Jan. 11 in Paris. No cause of death was reported.

Mr. Rohmer, an influential film critic early in his career, was internationally known for his films' long, philosophical conversations. His latest film, the 17th-century costume tale "Les amours d'Astrée et de Céladon" ("Romance of Astree and Celadon"), was released in 2007. In 2001, he was awarded a Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival for his body of work -- dozens of films made over a five-decade career.

Mr. Rohmer's movies were full of romantic temptation and love triangles, pretty girls and handsome youths. Often they took a lighthearted, chatty form, with serious themes hidden under the surface.

Six of Mr. Rohmer's films comprised an influential cycle of "moral tales" that addressed the thorny questions of modern love: whether to compromise your beliefs in the face of passion, for example, or how to maintain a sense of individual freedom in a relationship.

In 1969's "Ma Nuit Chez Maud" ("My Night at Maud's"), a churchgoing young engineer played by Jean-Louis Trintignant must choose between a seductive divorcee and a woman who meets his ideals. The film's screenplay was nominated for an Academy Award.

In 1970's "Le Genou de Claire" ("Claire's Knee"), a diplomat is overwhelmed by his desire to stroke the knee of a teenage girl he meets.

For Mr. Rohmer, it all conformed to a personal vision: to make films portraying the inner lives of characters without adding extraneous drama -- thereby provoking potshots from critics and even other filmmakers.

American actor Gene Hackman, playing a hard-boiled private eye in a 1975 Hollywood movie, dropped the gratuitous line that a Rohmer film "was kind of like watching paint dry." The New Yorker's high-brow critic Pauline Kael said Mr. Rohmer's films took trivial matters to an extreme.

Néstor Almendros, Mr. Rohmer's highly regarded cinematographer, worked on eight of the director's movies. He said Mr. Rohmer planned his locations so meticulously that he planted roses a year ahead of when he wanted them to bloom in scenes in "Claire's Knee."

He also scheduled the date for the filming of a snow scene in "My Night at Maud's" months before the event -- and was rewarded when it snowed on cue, wrote Almendros in a memoir, "A Man With a Camera."

"But it is not just a question of luck," said Almendros. "The key lies in Rohmer's detailed preparation, which he sometimes completes two years before shooting the film."

His readiness to rehearse for almost a year meant Mr. Rohmer could shoot scenes quickly and in only a take or two, co-workers said. He was as devoted to his actors as they were familiar with his methods and quirks as a director.

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