Saturday, September 13, 2014

Four Adventures of Reinette and Mirabelle

FOUR ADVENTURES OF REINETTE AND MIRABELLE (4 aventures de Reinette et Mirabelle)    B                     
France  (95 mi)  1987  d:  Éric Rohmer 

This is a delightful series of four short films, one of the most enjoyable and amusing in the entire Rohmer repertoire, unraveling with the conceptual detail of short stories, each starring the darling duo of Reinette (Joëlle Miquel) and Mirabelle (Jessica Ford), something of a variation on the theme of Rivette’s quirky adventurists, Céline and Julie Go Boating (Céline et Julie vont en bateau)  (1974).  Another cinéma vérité film shot on 16 mm, blown up to 35 mm, it was allegedly made very quickly while Rohmer was waiting for sunset shots in his previous film Le Rayon Vert (Summer) (1986), using many non-professional actors in the cast who were given plenty of leeway to improvise, accounting, perhaps, for a more free-wheeling style than usual.  Set in a highly colorful scheme of bright pastels dominated by the color red, the work is a personality driven film, where the charming spirit of these two women is thrust to the forefront.  The stories themselves are vignettes dominated by smaller moments, not life changing decisions, the kinds of things they experience every day, where they each obviously have an impact on the other’s life.  Reinette’s younger, idealistic enthusiasm and zeal is countered by Mirabelle’s acerbic tongue, dry wit, and more laid back approach, where their differences are inevitably highlighted, yet their friendship endures, becoming extremely familiar after awhile, as if we grew up knowing them.    

The Blue Hour (L'heure bleue)

Opening in the beautiful empty spaces of a rural country road, Mirabelle pulls her bike off to the side of the road, but can’t fix her flat due to a tire puncture.  Reinette, who lives nearby, offers assistance, where we literally witness her repairing the puncture in real time, fast becoming friends, where Reinette offers her a place to stay for awhile.  Mirabelle is a Parisian on holiday with her parents nearby, but has never experienced the countryside, something Reinette is intimately familiar with, living in what Mirabelle describes as a hayloft which has been converted to her living quarters, offering plenty of space and light, essential ingredients for a painter.  Much of this is spent discovering the rustic charm of rural life, where people grow their own food to eat and raise livestock, where the chirping sounds in the air seem quiet compared to the noisy Parisian streets.  Reinette’s favorite sound, however, is the utter silence in the country that lasts for perhaps a minute, a pre-dawn transcendental moment occurring between darkness and light just after the night animals go to sleep and just before the day animals awaken, where you have to get up early to experience it.  Nonetheless, through a bit of perseverance, which also includes a wildly inventive dance number, they eventually experience the blue hour together.   

The Coffee-Shop's Waiter (Le garçon de café)

Leaving the country for the city, Mirabelle invites Reinette to be her roommate in Paris when she attends art school, both university students at different schools, where they decide to meet at an outdoor café after class one day.  Featuring the grouchy irritability of Philippe Laudenbach as the ill-mannered waiter, a guy who takes rudeness to higher levels, making the simple transaction of making change to a customer an act of indignation and outright refusal, refusing on the grounds the customer doesn’t have smaller bills.  While this is exaggerated farce, much like handing the waiter a hundred dollar bill for a cup of coffee, where the establishment holds the customer hostage and in contempt, it instead turns into an extended essay on morals and honesty, as Reinette insists she be taken seriously when she says she’ll pay, but as neither have small enough bills, they instead flee the scene, exactly as the rude waiter suggests they would. The verbal fireworks here grow repetitive, but they establish the high minded principles that the fiery Reinette lives by.   

The Beggar, The Kleptomaniac and The Swindler (Le mendiant, la kleptomane et l'arnaqueuse)

Reinette reveals she’s not so jaded as city cynics when she offers small change to needy panhandlers, which catches Mirabelle off guard, as there are so many on the streets, you simply can’t support them all.  Reinette claims her system is to decipher those in need and offer something she can afford.  It’s amusing afterwards to see Mirabelle filling the coffers of needy beggars.  Taking place almost entirely in a neighborhood grocery, Mirabelle appears to be considering shoplifting when she instead is surprised to see another customer blatantly steal an item and place it in her zip-up shoulder bag, taking even greater interest when she notices the customer being followed by store detectives.  This turns into a veritable Keystone Cops episode of classic misdirection, which is then discussed afterwards by the duo at home, where both offer surprisingly individualistic philosophic views on just what is considered grounds for righteous indignation, which is immediately put to the test when they meet Marie Rivière performing a con solicitation act which Reinette initially falls for and later wants to exact justice.   

Selling the Painting (La vente du tableau)

Reinette is a surprisingly good self-taught Surrealist painter, which means her lack of training actually offers her insight not shared by those painters who uniformly follow the teachings of others.  But she has a philosophy that art should be met with silence, that words come afterwards when attempting to fathom the subject.  After a non-stop talkathon by Reinette, where despite several hints to cease and desist, she’s all wound up and just won’t shut up, Mirabelle challenges her to a day of silence.  But when an art dealer calls (Fabrice Luchini) to offer an appraisal of one of her works, they concoct a plan to go into the gallery one at a time, hoping to get the best deal, where the results are surprising.  The audience knows something is up, but they haven’t a clue just what’s in store.  It’s a clever segment, made even more interesting by the dubious behavior of the unscrupulous dealer, where the element of surprise makes this an absurd, sleight-of-hand theater piece. 

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