Boyfriends and Girlfriends (Ami de mon amie)
Somewhere in the Top 100, there had to be at least one movie from master French filmmaker Eric Rohmer, whose talk-saturated outings have been reviled by some as slow and aimless and hailed as others as masterful and thought-provoking. (I am a member of the latter camp.) The difficulty for me was not to determine whether a Rohmer film belonged here, but which one (or ones). I have always found Rohmer's films to be endlessly fascinating. By using dialogue to develop characters and ponder fascinating issues, Rohmer keeps the pace slow and forces us to focus on things that have become throwaways in most mainstream efforts. With their wry undercurrent of humor and keen view of life, Rohmer's movies are unlike 99% of what's available on celluloid. For most viewers, Boyfriends and Girlfriends would be considered one of Rohmer's lesser films - it's certainly not as well known as the likes of Claire's Knee or any of the Four Seasons films. But, since the first time I saw the picture, I have appreciated the simplicity and honesty of this story - the way Rohmer sympathetically portrays four characters who, in the hands of almost any other director, would be presented as the objects of derision. In Boyfriends and Girlfriends, Rohmer illustrates that even the seemingly most shallow of individuals can possess surprising depth.
Plot Summary (Spoilers Possible):
The characters in Boyfriends and Girlfriends are all self-centered and shallow. They rarely speak or think about anything deeper than their feelings, and never seek anything more substantial than transitory satisfaction. They are four young yuppies - twenty-somethings who have embraced the age of materialism and self-gratification that characterized the '80s. They live in a new, sleek Parisian suburb that has none of the old world charm of the ancient city. It's modern and sterile, and the closest it gets to Paris is a distant view of the Eiffel Tower peeking up over the horizon. Blanche (Emmanuelle Chaulet) is a civil servant who lives a simple-yet-unfulfilling lifestyle. Although comely, she has not had a lover for over two years - a fact that seems to define her existence. In fact, she doesn't even have any platonic friends until she meets college student Lea (Sophie Renoir) over lunch one day. The two hit it off immediately and soon have become pals. Lea is in many ways Blanche's opposite - she's more self-assured and vivacious. She is also involved in a steady relationship with a boyfriend, Fabien (Eric Viellard). However, while the two are committed to one another, they are incompatible - a fact that Lea sometimes acknowledges and sometimes shrugs off. Meanwhile, Blanche is smitten with one of Fabien's friends, the handsome Alexandre (François-Eric Gendron), but he plainly doesn't feel the same way about her, preferring instead to allow his eye to wander in Lea's direction. And Fabien is becoming increasingly interested in Blanche. The body of the film is then taken up by the shifting tides of these relationships as each new factor causes them to mutate ever-so-slightly.
Like most of Eric Rohmer's films, Boyfriends and Girlfriends mixes low-key drama with equally sedate comedy. The movie is pleasant and breezy, but never hilarious. The funniest sequence - a mistaken identity conversation near the end - works surprisingly well even though Rohmer is toying with an ancient convention. However, while it is amusing, it's not laugh-aloud funny. Anyone expecting to be rolling in the aisles during Boyfriends and Girlfriends will be disappointed. Likewise, as is his trademark, there is no melodrama. Rohmer tweaks our intellect, not our emotions. Admittedly, Rohmer's style is not for everyone. Watching a French film that is start-to-finish dialogue requires a fair amount of concentration, and, if you don't know the language, the ability to read subtitles quickly. But, for those who brave such cinematic hurdles, the rewards are considerable. Few directors are capable of immersing us into their worlds in the manner of Rohmer, and, even when his subjects are as apparently superficial as they are in Boyfriends and Girlfriends, his movies remain rich and multi-layered.
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