It’s a small, claustrophobic world in which Frédéric (Bernard Verley) moves. He has his family at home, and his work in the office. The Paris streets are busy and full of attractive women and with all the strength and passion of youth still in his bones, he spends the long hours that divide lunch and home-time coping with the conflict caused by desire.
Eric Rohmer presents the last film of his six ‘Six Moral Tales’ series as a long cinematic Psalm to temptation. The ‘Prologue’ is a delightful combination of an allusion to sci-fi ‘magic’ and the meandering mind of the married man.
The title sequence is cut with early-seventies ‘plinky-plonky’ minimalist music, full of portent and evocative of another planet. Frédéric wanders the streets of Paris and sits in cafes with a faraway look in his eyes. Of all the beautiful women in Paris he says, ‘I dream I possess them all.’ He engages in the fantasy of a surreal magnetic necklace that ‘annihilates the others’ free will.’ We see him wearing the sci-fi jewel: some women respond, and some don’t.
The prologue is a confession (the viewer feels like a therapist or a Priest). Yet at the same time, it is space-dust which prepares us for the narrative’s first real ‘crackle’ when Chloé (Zouzou) walks through his office door. Frédéric wants what he knows he shouldn’t have (or, indeed, what isn’t good for him) and proceeds to step close to the fire.
Rohmer avoids the temptation to present Chloé as a Jezebel. Chloé is anything but a simpering two-dimension: she’s more forthright than Frédéric’s wife, Hélène (Françoise Verley). Chloé’s a lost soul: her cigarette droops from her mouth, presenting combustible desire.
Rohmer writes clean, direct dialogue between Frédéric and Chloé. Chloé says the things Frédéric is too bourgeois to say. Until Frédéric met Chloé, his class had not given him the confidence to express himself; and now she releases him a little. Frédéric’s words and narrated thoughts toss and turn in his own imagined bed of love with Chloé. ‘I’ve never been so candid, so at ease. With most of the girls I’ve loved, I’ve played a role,’ he says.
L’Amour l’Après-Midi may well be a ‘moral tale,’ but it is more a homily to the power and celebration of free-will. Our strength to resist temptation; or, seen differently, our fear to take a risk. Rohmer lets us decide, but the director’s choice was always moral, rather than imagined fancy absent of credo.
Director: Eric Rohmer (1972)