French filmmaker Eric Rohmer's typically talky new export "Pauline at the Beach" offers a grainy study of love lettered in sand and erased on waves of ennui. It's love Scrabble.
Colored like bleached driftwood and paced like mildew growing on shower tile, its rewards for the eye or the glands are few. An exception is the Amazonian splendor of lead Arielle Dombasle, one of the grown-ups whose mating minuets are observed and found lacking by wide-eyed Amanda Langlet as Pauline. Dombasle, with a tousled blonde mane and body parts that stand at attention, plays Marion, a hip divorc,ee who invites her young cousin Pauline to vacation in the family villa in Normandy.
Marion runs into her old flame, Pierre, who introduces her to Henri, a balding he- man in a belted bathing suit. Pierre loves Marion who loves Henri who loves Henri. Then Pauline meets Sylvain who gets mixed up with Louisette who's been having an affair with Henri.
Rohmer's version of the romantic romp is talking heads in the tradition of French farce. Call it beach-blanket lingo. Everybody has a discussion with everybody at least once, with time out to skip in the surf, pick plums or prune the purple snowball plants outside the villa. And finally somebody talks someone into something.
Most of the film is about as much fun as sand in your sneakers, though it picks up when sexual tension develops between Henri and Pauline. In their scenes, there is eroticism, mystery and comedy. As he nibbles his way up the girl's leg in lieu of a wake-up call, she's startled by his kisses and kicks him a good one. Henri gives her the old Gallic shrug: "I'm a man. You're a woman and you have nice legs." Then they go downstairs and have croissants and a chat.
The perils of Pauline, it would seem, are verbal to the extreme. PAULINE AT THE BEACH -- In French with subtitles, at the Key Theater.