Love is Grounded in Director Éric Rohmer’s Inaugural Entry to his “Comedies & Proverbs” Series. 



Two decades on, the career of one-time Left Bank French New Waver Éric Rohmer took a turn away from his roots with the “Six Moral Tales” series and the few historical epics that followed, and into a self-proclaimed run of uncharted “Comedies & Proverbs”.  Each of what turned out to be another half dozen films open with a “proverb” of sorts; a literal phrase that somehow informs and/or compliments the story that then unspools.

Almost without fail, when taking in any given Éric Rohmer film, it occurs to me that when people ignorant of French cinema think of French cinema, this is what they’re thinking of.  You know… lightly affected relationship drama played out on a small scale; primarily troubled lovers talking in rooms and perhaps parks and/or restaurants.  1981’s The Aviator’s Wife (La Femme de l’aviateur) has all of that, and pretty much only that.  

What it lacks in terms of embodying those peoples’ idea of a stereotypical French art house flick is sex.  Rohmer, unlike so many of his contemporaries as well as French filmmakers both earlier and later than he, had something of an aversion to shooting such scenes.  Consequently, while there’s no lack of passion in his characters, nor a lack of intimacy, the thoroughly mature The Aviator’s Wife keeps its proverbial shirt on all the while.  Through the largely internalized performance of its young lead, Philippe Marlaud (who tragically died the same year as this film’s release), it maintains a quiet, almost stirring sense.

In it, the question of who the title character is haunts Marlaud’s heartbroken and oddly narcoleptic character, François.  François, newly dumped by Anne (Marie Rivière), an apparently upwardly mobile young woman his same age, twenty-five.  The lover Anne is actually in love with a married pilot named Christian (Mathieu Carrière), but Christian dumps her in order to fully commit to his family.  François, unable to leave the similarly heartbroken Anne alone, becomes fixated on proving that Christian has merely drifted to another extramarital lover.  How his presumed result of the subsequent stalking will help his standing with Anne is clear only in his own head, if that.  Yet, it perfectly resonates as the actions of desperately grief-stricken young man.

The Aviator’s Wife’s seven-ten split of romance is further complicated by Lucie (Anne-Laure Meury), a vibrant fifteen-year-old who inserts herself into Christian’s stalking after she meets him in a café.  Her flirty chattiness can’t keep him from falling asleep while fixating on the front doors of the hotel across the street as he waits for Christian to emerge with the mystery blonde he’s been going around with.  Is she his wife, his lover, or something else?  The clues become increasingly preposterous as they pile up. 

This disc features an info-packed if also rather dry audio commentary track by film historian Adrian Martin.  Martin, for his academic approach, remains consistent throughout the entire film, delivering a steady stream of Éric Rohmer facts, quotes and observations.  It’s an excellent track for those looking to intently focus on Rohmer- particularly the “Comedies & Proverbs” phase of the filmmaker’s career.    The film, in French with optional English subtitles, has a very genuine early-‘80s modesty about its color and transfer.  Which is to say, much like a late ‘70s movie of this size and scope.

The onscreen proverb that leads this most muted of comedies reads, “It is impossible to think about nothing.”  Try as François might, even his chronic nodding can’t shut off his obsessive mind.  Rohmer guides this mundane, deceptively off-the-rack-looking film with quiet precision, funneling everything into the characters’ drama.  Critic Dave Kehr, then of The Chicago Reader, called The Aviator’s Wife “A perfect film”.  While that basically guaranteed that that quote will follow the film forever (and it has- See this Blu-ray’s cover for the latest instance), I do believe Mr. Kehr might’ve overstated things to some degree.  The Aviator’s Wife is no classic, but it flies perfectly fine.