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Chloe in the Afternoon (Eric Rohmer, 1972)


    The majority of films, even when not based on any sort of literary source material, proceed like a novel, spinning complex narratives while juggling each character and plot thread that is encompassed within its scope. Even when such films work, the effort expended is noticeable (and often quite rewarding). There are also some films with a narrower, but deeper, focus, that feel as if they have been adapted from short stories, since they present an expression that feels as if they might have flowed with an almost effortless succinctness if they existed on the page. I don’t mean to state a preference between these two types of narrative films, nor simplify cinema by trying to set up an easy dichotomy, but Eric Rohmer’s Chloe in the Afternoon (the last of his “Six Moral Tales”) is definitely one of the latter types, since it uses its minimal story setup to present questions about infidelity and societal norms that almost flit by almost without fuss. Rohmer’s style is typically unembellished here, with each briskly edited scene existing only long enough to create an impression of the intent. Never for a moment does the mood feel overplayed. Because of that relative austerity, the moments that are highlighted with a zoom shot or an edit that clearly editorializes pack an emotional wallop that hardly seems possible, given their apparent plainness.


    Telling a relatively straightforward story about a bored husband’s friendship and flirtation with the titular figure from his past, Rohmer never threatens to expand the meaning of his tale beyond the meaning it has for its protagonist, so when it doesn’t attempt to achieve definitiveness, the audience hardly minds. The director’s tone is neither modest nor immodest, instead opting to try to find some sort of interested objectivity when looking at its characters, placing the job of judgment largely in the viewer’s hands. After allowing the husband a chance to explain his point of view in a lengthy prologue, the film begins presenting his actions without his internal commentary, but because he had a chance to speak, the motivations behind his actions are made clear. Though he never tells the audience or another character about his ambivalent opinions of his would-be mistress, they’re easy to surmise given the information presented, and in that approach, which appeals to the observer’s ability to reason, the film builds its moral quandary. There exists in Chloe’s characters a rare sort of self-reflection, and it’s immensely gratifying to watch in action. Both in watching Chloe position herself as a femme fatale to make herself so unattainable that her prey can’t resist her and the husband reconcile his actions around her, the film and the performances reward the viewer’s perceptiveness. Instead of indulging in a typically simplistic game of cat and mouse within a convoluted framework, Chloe in the Afternoon uses its presents the viewer with a more complex set of revelations that belies the simplicity of its plot structure.


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Jeremy Heilman