Love, jealousy and misunderstanding feel like soft rain in the first of Eric Rohmer’s ‘Comedies and Proverbs’ series. Here are two very different 1980s Parisian women. One is Anne (Marie Rivière): she’s a 25 year-old secretary who lives in small top-floor studio. Her tap leaks, her married lover (the aviator) has left her and François (Philippe Marlaud), her law-student boyfriend, is clingy and irritating, and barely sees her due to his night shifts at the postal sorting office. The other is Lucie (Anne-Laure Meury), an impish 15 year-old who ‘likes life when it’s most like a novel.’ Lucie has a fertile imagination which she puts to good use when she strikes up an afternoon’s friendship with the glum, curious Francois who needs ‘something to do for the afternoon’ (as the proverb says ‘one can’t think of nothing’) and together, they playfully follow the ‘aviator’ and a mysterious blonde woman.
Rohmer places François (a quiet, gentle performance from Marlaud) as a sleep-deprived, naïve Prince, with ineffectual skills as a suitor: he doesn’t quite understand that all his efforts to please Anne just serve to get on her nerves. Although Rohmer upholds the romantic image of Francois as a young infatuated man in love, this is more a love-letter to Lucie and Anne whose age difference and attitude to love are ten years apart. Lucie, radiant in her optimism, boldly claims that with love, for her, ‘it’s all or nothing.’ Meanwhile Anne says she doesn’t need to be with a man and believes marriage shouldn’t mean man and wife should live together. This difference gives the film a light melancholy that is worn like an old and treasured summer dress.
Anne’s boredom with men is a recurring theme: there’s a delightful cameo from Fabrice Luchini, the babbling admirer she bumps into on the bus: she dismisses him, quite rightly, as a ‘cretin’. Anne is endlessly patient with Francois, claiming ‘I am too nice’ and ‘I spend my life doing things I don’t have to.’ Rivière’s performance is luminous. She plays Anne with a compelling and distinctive fragility, stubbornness and compassion. She aches in her 1980s modernity, in her need for love, and desire to hold onto her independence.
Rivière’s Anne is the heroine in the attic apartment and her power rests in that she is somewhat unreachable. She doesn’t have a phone (and refuses to take Francois’ calls at work); her men communicate via notes under the door, or by seeking her out in a cafe. Anne has an inaccessibility that is, today, unknown, and makes La Femme De L’Aviateur a fairy-tale of misunderstandings and chance meetings, with the time for characters to reflect properly, in a true meandering Eric Rohmer-style. True to life, and true to heart.