Along with Francois Truffaut, Jean-Luc Godard, Jacques Rivette and Claude Chabrol, director Eric Rohmer was one of the members of the influential French New Wave film movement of the 1950s and 1960s. Though not nearly as internationally known as Godard or Truffaut, Rohmer was nonetheless considered to be the master of the movement by his contemporaries, despite being more aesthetically conservative than the others. Rohmer had his start working as an editor and critic for the international film magazine Cahiers du Cinema before embarking on his directing career. Despite a slow start marred with financial difficulties and lack of interest from his fellow countrymen, Rohmer finally emerged onto the stage with his first of three film cycles, "Six Moral Tales," which established his talky, philosophical style that either intrigued or frustrated audiences. But by the time the six tales were completed, Rohmer had established himself as an exceptional examiner of human frailty uncomplicated by the trappings of genre expectations or plot devices. Rohmer followed with two other film cycles, "Comedies and Proverbs" and "Tales of the Four Seasons," which only enhanced his standing in filmmaking circles as one of the true auteurs of international cinema.
Depending on the source, Rohmer was born either Maurice Henri Joseph Schérer in Tulle, France on March 21, 1920 or Jean-Marie Maurice Schérer on April 4, 1920 in Nancy, France. Little was known about his early life - who his parents were; where he received his education - but he did have a brother, René, who later made his living as a philosopher. Rohmer's early professional life consisted of being a teacher in Clermont-Ferrand, which he followed with a move to Paris, where he worked as a freelance journalist. Writing under the pseudonym Gilbert Cordier, he published a novel called Elizabeth while making strides as a film critic. Rohmer soon became involved with the likes of Jean-Luc Godard, Francois Truffaut and Claude Chabrol by way of contributing to the influential film magazine, Cahiers du Cinema, where he also served as editor from 1956 to 1963.
While his French New Wave contemporaries began making themselves internationally known, Rohmer struggled to find his own footing, while testing his own talent in short films through the 1950s. After abandoning his first feature, "Les Petites filles modeles" in 1952 due to a lack of financing, he finally finished his first film, "Le Signe du lion" (1959), a reflective and rather dry look at a young music student (Jess Hahn) struggling to survive oncoming poverty following the evaporation of his inheritance. Hardly comparable to the work of Goddard or Truffaut, the film failed to gain Rohmer much notice, even in his own county. But his luck began to change just a few years later when he began making his "Six Moral Tales," which were philosophical examinations of the ability to resist temptation. The first two of the six, "La Boulangere de Monceau" (1962) and "La Carriere de Suzanne" (1963), were minor efforts. But the third, "My Night at Maud's" (1969), a talkative chamber drama dealing with ethics, religion and hypocrisy, was a surprise hit that garnered Rohmer a surprise Oscar nomination for Best Screenplay in 1970.
The fourth to be released in the series, but third to be filmed was "La Collectionneuse" (1967). Though not as successful as "Maud," it was nevertheless an engaging tale about a young woman collecting one-night-stands. Meanwhile, "Claire's Knee" (1970) and "Chl in the Afternoon" (1972) completed the cycle and established Rohmer, and his cameraman Nestor Almendros, as creators of a unique cinematic world firmly rooted in ethical concerns and suffused by the director's devout Catholicism. In the mid-1970s, Rohmer turned to literary adaptations and historical subjects with "The Marquise of O..." (1975), a well-received tale of unrestrained passion; "Perceval le Gallois" (1978), his interpretation of Medieval codes of gallantry; and a TV film, "Catherine de Heilbronn." By this time, Rohmer had earned himself both acclaim and ridicule from critics and his filmmaking contemporaries for his slow, often plot-less philosophical meditations. In fact, Gene Hackman's character in Arthur Penn's "Night Moves" (1975) remarked that his movies were " kind of like watching paint dry."
Despite the criticism, Rohmer was considered by Truffaut to be the French movement's "master," despite his aesthetics being more conservative than his radical contemporaries, which led to a falling out with Godard. In the 1980s, Rohmer embarked on a new series of six films, "Comedies and Proverbs," which was launched by "The Aviator's Wife" (1980). These droll, intimate stories, set in an ever-shifting contemporary French society, revolved around quirky characters whose emotional problems almost overwhelm, but who finally discover the resources for survival. Perhaps the best of the series was "Le Rayon vert" ("Summer") (1986), a moving drama about an unhappy Parisian student (Marie Riviere) on vacation hoping for a romantic revelation without compromise. The fragile study of youthful yearning and confusion won the Golden Lion prize at the Venice Film Festival. Meanwhile, "Quatre aventures de Reinette et Mirabelle" ("Four Adventures of Reinette and Mirabelle") (1987) was a fine successor to Rohmer's morality tale tradition, depicting a winning innocent Provincial and her more worldly cosmopolitan counterpart engaged in various engagements together.
Starting another film series, "Tales of the Four Seasons," he directed "Conte de printemps" ("Tale of Springtime") (1990) and its companion film "Conte d'hiver" ("A Winter's Tale") (1992), both of which received considerable international praise. "Tale of Springtime" mined a wealth of philosophical and emotional resonance from what seemed like grounds for romantic comedy, as a young woman (Anne Teyssedre) tries to match her father with an older friend she recently made. "A Winter's Tale" featured both a hairdresser (Charlotte Véry) who hopes for a near-magical reuniting with the missing father of her daughter and delicate allusions to the Shakespeare play of the same name. Following the third installment, "Conte d'été" ("A Summer's Tale") (1996), he earned considerable acclaim with "Conte d'automne" ("An Autumn's Tale") (1998), which found its way to the festivals in Telluride, Toronto and New York. Rohmer willingly embraced digital filmmaking when he directed "The Lady and the Duke" (2001), which he shot on a DV camera. Meanwhile, Rohmer made his final films, the period drama "Triple Agent" (2004) and "Les Amours d'Astrée et de Céladon" (2007) before he quietly slipped away in 2010, with his death confirmed by his production company. He was 89.
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Published novel under pseudonym Gilbert Cordier
Began writing film criticism
Made first short film, "Journal d'un scelerat" (16 mm)
Joined staff of Cahiers du Cinema
Made first 35 mm film, "Presentation", starring Jean-Luc Godard (12 min.)
Began work on uncompleted feature, "Les Petites Filles Modeles"
Promoted to editor of Cahiers du Cinema
First feature released, "Sign of Leo"
Began series of "Six Moral Tales," the first was "La boulangère de Monceau" and the second, "La Carrière de Suzanne"
Earned international recognition for the third film in the "Moral Tales" series, "Ma nuit chez Maud"; earned an Academy Award nomination for Best Foreign Language Film
Filmed the period film, "La Marquise d'O," from the novella by Heinrich von Kleist
Helmed the film, "Perceval le Gallois," based on a 12th century manuscript by Chrétien de Troyes
Began series of "Comedies and Proverbs" with "The Aviator's Wife"
Earned critical praise for the fifth film in the "Comedies and Proverbs" series, "Le Rayon vert"
Began third series of "Tales of the Four Seasons" with "Conte de printemps"
Earned international praise for the fourth film in the "Tales of the Four Seasons" series, "Conte d'automne"
Helmed the controversial, "L'Anglaise et le duc," which gave a negative portrayal of the French Revolution
Returned to period drama with "Triple Agent"
Directed final film, "Les Amours d'Astrée et de Céladon"