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‘Boyfriends and Girlfriends’ (PG)

By Hal Hinson
Washington Post Staff Writer
August 13, 1988

"Boyfriends and Girlfriends," the new film by Eric Rohmer, must be one of the most blissfully relaxed romantic comedies ever made. Set in the bland suburban utopia of Cergy-Pontoise, a model bourgeois community on the outskirts of Paris, it has an atmosphere of perpetual sunniness and well-being. Next to nothing happens in it, and certainly nothing of consequence. It's an utterly superficial movie -- a celebration of superficiality -- and utterly charming.

The picture, which is the culmination of Rohmer's six-film series of "Comedies and Proverbs," is an intricately worked out farce without the rambunctious propulsiveness of farce; it's farce at half speed. The cast is a group of attractive young students and civil servants, whose lives have a smooth-sailing grace and insubstantiality. They lunch, swim, stroll around shopping and gazing into store windows. On the surface, they seem blessedly well adjusted. And there's nothing but surface.

The village they live is an artificial, "created" reality, a sort of drowsy shopping mall heaven, without roots in anything other than convenience, and the people in it don't seem quite real either. Le'a (Sophie Renoir), a reedy, dark-eyed beauty about to finish college, lives part time with Fabien (Eric Viellard), a handsome, easygoing lad who designs athletic gear and spends his days windsurfing and working out at the club. Le'a's best friend, Blanche (Emmanuelle Chaulet), is a pert but rather businesslike young woman who works for the Ministry of Culture. At the moment she's without a boyfriend, but she becomes smitten with a smugly good-looking civil engineer named Alexandre (Franc ois-Eric Gendron), who barely notices she's alive.

In "Boyfriends and Girlfriends," no one seems capable of taking a simple forward step. It's like watching a chess match in which the players routinely make moves that seem directly opposed to their best interests. Whenever Blanche encounters Alexandre she clams up or creates reasons for not taking him up on his generous offers of rides or other favors. Le'a is restless and complains to Blanche that because she cares very little for the water sports that interest Fabien, she wants a change. Her maneuverings, though, are immediately transparent. Despite her attempts to pair off Blanche with Alexandre (to whom she's secretly attracted herself), it's clear that she sees a better match for her friend in Fabien.

Fabien, who at first takes only a passive interest in Blanche, comes to think in these terms as well, though when Le'a gives up her ticket to a tennis match and sends them off alone, he's a bit slow on the uptake. And it's only after Le'a reveals to Alexandre that she has left Fabien for good that he shows even the slightest interest.

You wouldn't call Rohmer's characters romantics; they're not substantial enough for that. Romance preoccupies them, but you get the feeling it's because they have nothing better to think about.

You don't have strong feelings about these people, but that is the point. Nobody could. At the same time, their triviality is enormously engaging, and almost without noticing it, you become caught up in their intrigues and heartbreaks. The movie has a Mozartean lightness, but the effortlessness of Rohmer's style is deceptive. He isn't grappling with anything particularly weighty here, but he's not just doodling either.

What Rohmer shows us in "Boyfriends and Girlfriends" are the benign manipulations of people in love. He's expert at revealing the shifting geometry between the players. During the course of the picture, partners are exchanged, new alliances formed, tears are shed, time passes, and nobody is much offended or saddened or upset. In the end, as the new couples pair off for their vacations together, the mood is one of mild contentment. And yet there's sadness and something surprisingly touching that mixes in with the comedy. This picture, insubstantial as it is, is buoyant, cloud-sprung, an ode to sweet banality.

Boyfriends and Girlfriends, at the K-B Janus, is rated PG.

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