Despite the French New Wave being widely considered obsolete by the 1980s, all of its directors remained active, finding varying degrees of success in adapting to the dramatically shifting political world around them. Jean-Luc Godard found himself reborn after a decade of alienating fans with a bombardment of radically left-wing pieces of agitprop; Francois Truffaut released the largely beloved The Last Metro, before his tragic passing in 1984; and both Jacques Rivette and Claude Chabrol continued pushing their abstraction and dissection of Hollywood themes, with varying degrees of success. Éric Rohmer, however, found himself in one of the most prolific periods of his entire career, with his ‘80s work mostly consisting of his comedies and proverbs series, a selection of six films that ruminate on the classic Rohmerian themes of failing relationships, conspicuous love affairs, and embittered jealousy. Full Moon in Paris is the fourth entry in this canonical run, and despite its strikingly beautiful visual palette and poignant thematic concerns, to this day, it remains one of the auteur’s most underrated works.
Pascale Ogier, in one of her final roles before a devastating early death in 1984, plays Louise, a free-spirited woman whose life in the Parisian suburbs with her partner, Remi (Tchéky Karyo), has left her desiring both the excitement of French nightlife and the ability to spend time alone. Remi’s boring and monotonous attitude seems to be the antithesis of Louise’s outgoing and vibrant personality, and an early scene showcasing an argument at a party highlights the dichotomy between the two lovers’ desires. Remi is unlike many classic Rohmerian male characters — he is physically strong, doesn’t speak in borderline insufferable intellectual jargon, and appears to be devoted to his girlfriend. Rohmer instead deposits his classical stereotypes of pathetic or fallible men onto Octave (Fabrice Luchini), a married man who, despite his continued efforts to instigate a sexual relationship with Louise, is repeatedly rejected in favor of platonic friendship (non-romantic friendships are one of the very specific social orientations at the heart of the film).
To escape from the mundanity of life, Louise decides to split her domestic life into two homes: her suburban house with Remi and a pied-à-terre in the center of Paris, where she mostly stays on Friday nights, allowing herself to go out to parties by herself. Full Moon in Paris largely takes place in the bustling streets of nocturnal Paris, making this an outlier in a Rohmerian oeuvre that typically visits the sunny settings of rural France or small but hectic coastal towns. But the film remains very obviously crafted by his hands: the entirely static camera creates frames that look like paintings; the use of space is brilliant, seeing characters gracefully moving around one another; and Rohmer’s use of real locations allows this all, story and aesthetic, to feel authentic. However, the film also reveals an alternative side to Rohmer in many ways. An obvious departure from his usual style can be seen in the multiple, beautifully shot dance sequences — including a memorable one in which Louise dances to ‘80s French electropop — as the images overflow with an expression of pure happiness. Meanwhile, the final dance is spliced into a montage, an editing technique that feels somewhat alien to Rohmer. Here, Louise is seen dating a mysterious lover; that sequence is coupled with a serene moment where they ride a motorcycle together, the Paris streetlights casting gorgeous shadows on the open roads surrounding them.
It’s hard to imagine anyone else playing Louise other than Ogier; she infuses her character with such charisma that it’s quite impossible not to be enticed. As the film unravels, Louise consistently finds herself conflicted between her committed relationship to Remi — whom she clearly loves despite his flaws — and the exhilarating yet enigmatic thrill of single life in Paris. While Rohmer never adopts a patently mournful tone, there is something deeply moving about Ogier’s ability to convey the pathos swirling within her character, a woman whose desires consistently appear to be in natural and irresolvable opposition to one another. It’s this clash of desires that drives Full Moon in Paris. Can you have total independence while requiting someone’s love? Is settling for a committed relationship a signifier of stagnation? How easy is it for love to move from one person to another? All of these are mystifying questions that trouble and captivate Rohmer, none of which he can answer by his films’ ends, and who could?
Despite appearing to be a rather rudimentary story about relationships on its face, Full Moon in Paris is full of small grace notes that accumulate and transcend simple drama to become something far more profound. And while relatively short, the film sees Rohmer develop myriad morally complex and dynamic characters, each with clear flaws and dreams, deeply empathetic even as they slip into the darker sides of themselves. Rarely does Rohmer seek to judge or moralize them, treating each instead as humans desperately seeking fulfillment in whatever small capacity they can find. Unlike his Cahiers du Cinéma peers, Rohmer was far more conservative in his political views. It could thus be easy to see Full Moon in Paris as a subdued diatribe against a typically free-spirited, Parisian attitude: Louise, after all, by immersing herself in it, falls into tragedy. But the film mercifully never makes any direct ideological statement, instead simply highlighting the oscillating contradictions between the comforting safety of relationships and a desire for amorous liberty.
Published as part of InRO Weekly — Volume 1, Issue 12.