The simple preparation of a steak by a woman intellectually resistant to the dry charm of an intense man (played by Jean-Luc Godard) comprises this neat 10-minute short, directed and written by Eric Rohmer at the very beginning of his film-making career.
It’s snowing and we’re in Switzerland. During the opening moment the on-screen text tells us that Walter (Godard) is introducing Clara to Charlotte in order to make her jealous. Charlotte refuses to rise (externally, at least) and the three trudge through the snow for a bit, before Clara heads off. Walter follows Charlotte back to her small apartment.
Charlotte is clearly in a mood about something, and proceeds to make a steak while Walter stands there, wanting her to kiss him. Charlotte, quite rightly, refuses. Walter is young and clumsy and he has a lot to learn. He lacks charm, commenting that ‘Clara is more beautiful than you. But I don’t like comparisons.’ Charlotte defends: ‘That doesn’t bother me at all.’
All the components of Rohmer’s fascination with the playful, indirect exchanges between men and women are carved out here: Charlotte et son Steak is a charming and succinct exposition for almost all Rohmer’s later films. In Walter is the intellectual man who loves to theorise, largely because he is unable to directly express his feelings. Versions of Walter crop time and again. They are men who stumble in their awkwardness, saying things women don’t want to hear.
And likewise, we see Rohmer’s profound interest in women and how they assert their independence. Rohmer shows how Charlotte open-plumes her opinions and strong will in a tiny domestic environment. The restless Ann (Marie Rivière) in La Femme d’Aviateur (The Aviator’s Wife) does the same in her ‘Maid’s room’ apartment, and likewise the luminous Chloé (Zouzou) in L’Amour l’Après-midi (Love in the Afternoon).
Most memorable is Walter’s line: ‘I’d like to be dead so you’d think more of me.’ Charlotte responds: ‘I’d think of you even less.’ However, at the end the two come together in an embrace. Credo was important to Rohmer, and here it is evident, within just ten minutes, that Walter and Charlotte believe in the simple connection achieved from an embrace. Faith in its power (alongside the sound of a passing train in the distance) upholds Charlotte et son Steak as Rohmer’s most conventionally ‘Romantic’ film.
Worth knowing: Eric Rohmer directed this in 1950/1. However, it was only widely seen ten years later, when the uncredited actress who played Charlotte was dubbed by the voice of Stéphane Audran.