Credit: FIDMarseille/Jacques Rozier
by Chris Cassingham Featured Film

Du Côté d’Orouët — Jacques Rozier [FIDMarseille ’24 Review]

July 5, 2024

The premise is familiar: three young women spend their holiday by the sea, relaxing, flirting, and drinking; Jacques Rozier fertilizes this unremarkable narrative turf with a freewheeling spirit and melancholic edge in his second feature, Du Côté d’Orouët, premiering at 2024 FiDMarseille in a new 4K restoration. Made just a few years after the tumult of May 1968, Du Côté d’Orouët exists in between the end and the beginning of what the film never explicitly says; but this invigorating expression of female friendship remains, through its specificity of character and place (and over 50 years after its original release), a prescient comment on a generation searching for escape and getting mixed results.

The film starts in sanitized, contemporary Paris. Office workers in carefully manicured outfits dutifully type away about nothing in particular for a wet rag of a boss, Gilbert (Bernard Menez). One of the employees, Joelle (Daniele Croisy), heads for lunch with her friend Caroline (Caroline Cartier), with whom she and another friend, Kareen (Francoise Geugan), are about to go on summer vacation. Gilbert implicates himself in their lunch plans, not predatorily but clumsily, a less-than-dignified air of flirtatious desperation infusing his bumbling presence in their idle conversation. They’re to stay at the empty villa belonging to Caroline’s aunt, an hour west of Nantes. It’s almost October, Gilbert says. It will be too cold and unpleasant. It doesn’t matter to them.

Their three weeks by the sea embody a kind of utopian ideal. While lateness of the season, the often-rotten weather, and the lack of other people (perhaps an upside to some) casts the town in a decrepit shadow, the trio eagerly forges ahead, like pioneers of the Summer holiday who have found virgin territory along a hidden path. Rozier directs his actors with an attentive but non-intrusive eye, following Caroline, Joelle, and Kareen’s eating, drinking, and merriment in long improvisational scenes. Unencumbered by the rules of polite society, they occupy the empty villa in childish reverie, gorging themselves on wine and pastries, screaming and running around the villa like hyperactive children. The girls are more than enough to fill every space they enter.

It would be easy to compare Rozier’s film to his contemporaries, particularly — in its milieu of female friendship and summer holidays — to Jacques Rivette and Éric Rohmer. There’s something of the former’s Celine and Julie Go Boating here, a receptiveness to the whims of both the universe and of its characters’ impulses, a sense of play and adventure that guides them like an invisible hand. While this doesn’t traverse planes of reality as with Rivette’s film (which arrived three years after Rozier’s), there is an endearing kinship between the two in the way it portrays female friendship as a constant volley of trust, irritation, intimacy, and silliness.

But such comparisons, which could also include Rohmer’s La Collectionneuse or Love in the Afternoon, don’t account for Du Côté d’Orouët’s more explicit symbolism for a generation in search of quick pleasures and new beginnings. The ocean has always represented potential and escape for Rozier, before this film and certainly after (in The Castaways of Turtle Island); here, it represents, almost too literally, the end of the world, in which these women — rendered almost completely childlike by lack of obligation — set up a new one for themselves with tenuous rules. The vacation now becomes a kind of social experiment. The actors’ complete freedom in their movement and behavior is textual as well as subtextual, and on a filmmaking level facilitates a documentary feel. The film refuses to define any one of the girls as a protagonist, and instead allows its restless energy to generate a communal perspective that even incorporates Gilbert’s (who shows up under the false pretense of stopping one night in the beach seaside town on the way to a friend’s house), as he tries, unsuccessfully, to flirt with Joelle.

This isn’t to say the film is without tension or conflict. The communal utopia the girls have set up for themselves, as we expect, comes crashing down. The once youthful energy that propelled the film’s beginning washes away upon the introduction of Patrick (Patrick Verde), a handsome local sailor. His presence forces ego and romantic feeling, as with Gilbert like an uninvited guest, into the small social container the girls have created for themselves. Kareen likes Patrick, Patrick likes Caroline, Joelle hates Gilbert, and Kareen feels bad for Gilbert. What remains in the end, after Kareen goes home early, is a melancholic hangover.

Summer is long over when the group is back in Paris. Thoughts inevitably turn to next year’s adventure. We see Gilbert and another female office worker chatting together over lunch, sharing stories of their summer and ideas for the next. Joelle, one table over, is barely able to contain her delight watching Gilbert put a desperately positive spin on his humiliating, rejection-filled summer vacation. Hopeful thoughts turned to the future, to the next hope-filled holiday by the sea, invite us into an elliptical trance. In post-’68 France, Rozier, an iconoclast and cult figure among the familiar class of French New Wave heroes such as Godard, Truffaut, and Rohmer, made a generation-defining film, a satirical, symbolic, yet strikingly familiar story of a nascent society: the structures that form it, allow it to change, the conflicts that bring it swiftly down, and the impulses that encourage it to rebound. It’s the perfect story for a country still in the emotional wake of a political uprising.

Published as part of FIDMarseille 2024: Dispatch 2.