Love Stories

film 5 of 5

The Bakery Girl of Monceau

Film Review by Dean Duncan Mar 26, 2015

As with the courses comiques of the first years of cinema, Eric Rohmer’s first great film success has tremendous documentary value, over and above the plot and enactment. These Parisian places and people register powerfully, burstingly, even imperishably. As for Rohmer, he really seems to have found his method, and hit his stride. We’ve got a trifle of a situation, agonized over with poignant hilarity by his reflective and deluded protagonist. The excessive narration works wonderfully: in the first place it is consistent with the character, and in the second, good talk is as cinematic as good pictures. Also, and in connection, nothing is trifling when you elaborate upon it. (Plus the film was shot silent. This is a cheap way to flesh it out. Why not?)

The conclusion here is kind of chilling. Barbet Schroeder’s main character takes the next step with this working girl, so that what was harmless flirtation begins to border on actual engagement, and the ethical commitment that should go with. But when this young man’s previous quarry reappears—with a satisfying solution to the mystery of her disappearance—he just dumps the shop girl. So far, so caddish, and maybe not so big a deal. Until he tells us that it’s a moral decision, which is how he justifies himself and actually leaves the world a little bit more corrupted. A crafty, glancing epilogue tells us that the proper consummation of all comedy has taken place. But there’s no joyful resolution, no tonic cadence in this marriage. Wrong person, for the wrong motive, with the wrong values reinforced thereby. Piquant! Powerful!