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Eric Rohmer's Six Moral Tales: The Criterion Collection

Eric Rohmer's Six Moral Tales: The Criterion Collection

With the failure of his first feature length film, 1959's The Sign of the Lion, Eric Rohmer proved to be out of step with his insta-famous Cahiers du Cinema colleagues Jean-Luc Godard (who appeared in one of Rohmer's short films), Claude Chabrol and François Truffaut. The others had launched the French New Wave, and because he was a writer for Cahiers, Rohmer was lumped among them. The fit was awkward; though they all loved cinema, he was older and not in step with their pop-culture sensibilities. After his flop, Rohmer moved into TV, taught, made shorts, and conceived what will likely be his monument to cinema, the "Moral Tales" cycle, which begun with two shorts in 1963, and concluded in 1972. Rohmer had written the stories in novel form beforehand, starting with the opening and closing segments and filling in the rest as he went), which is included in The Criterion Collection's definitive and indispensable set. In these films, Rohmer had essentially one narrative worked into six different permutations: a man has a girlfriend and finds himself attracted to another, and after a courtship — real or imagined — goes back to his original choice. But in each version of this story, Rohmer reveals much of the fickle nature of love, and the inherent indecisiveness of intellectual men in general. All the films present the inner thoughts (either in voiceover or in conversation) of the male protagonists, who over-analyze their situations and are half-aware of what's really going on. Because the main characters are so in their own heads, such may ruin their ability to connect with the women they're attracted to, or talk themselves out of infidelity, but all are prisoners to their own psychoses. And in that way — even though the best of the French New Wave does reveal human truths — Rohmer's work doesn't simply belong to a period or movement of cinema, but is free to be masterful without any sense of qualitative appreciation. Of course, his films are simply about characters (often in minimal settings, though the cinematography of Nestor Almendros more than makes up for the limited locales), and such has left Rohmer accused of being sluggish or fey. Perhaps that's because the sexually provocative nature of his films (though the moral tales contain virtually no nudity) crossed over as "adult cinema" when French films were notorious for containing naked girls. That doesn't deny the sexual nature of his filmmaking (Rohmer can make a woman praying in church faintly erotic), and he has a deft hand for invoking atmospheres of loaded sexuality.

By collecting this body of work into a handsome box set, The Criterion Collection offers a great opportunity to be enveloped by a master filmmaker working on themes and ideas that formulate one of the most important series of works by a director. The box set includes all six "Moral Tales," Eric Rohmer's book of the same name, and "On the Six Moral Tales," a collection of essays by Geoff Andrew, Ginette Vincendeau, Kent Jones, Phillip Lopate, Nestor Almendros, Molly Haskell, Armond White, and Rohmer. Box set with six folding digipaks.

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