Saturday, March 11, 2017

La Collectionneuse Turns 50

La Collectionneuse is best viewed as a transitional work, and Rohmer’s first attempt at adapting his patented talky romance format to feature length. The two previous entries in the Moral Tales series, La Boulangère de Monceau and Suzanne’s Career, both produced in 1963, were B/W shorts, shot in Paris in a gritty, documentary style. La Collectionneuse was filmed in color by the great Nestor Almendros (who would go on to win an Oscar for Days of Heaven) and takes place in the rural south of France, in one of those stone farmhouses that make American tourists swoon.

A Parisian named Adrian (Patrick Bauchau), who has taken navel-gazing to an art form, has come to the villa for one of those interminable French holidays. He shares the house with his friend Daniel (Daniel Pommereulle) and a free-sprited – to put it mildy - young woman named Haydee (Haydee Politoff). Haydee’s vacation plans consist almost entirely of having sex with, well, everyone. Everyone except Adrian, that is.

In an interesting reversal of the usual sexual politics, it is Haydee who views sex as a series of one night conquests, and she ‘collects’ trysts with men  the way others collect stamps or rare coins. All of this throws the handsome, and quite spoiled, Adrian into a blasé sort of tizzy, as he finds himself unable to seduce the unselective Haydee, and his self esteem, which is basically his entire raison d’être, is mortally threatened.

Despite having a loyal fanbase, La Collectionneuse is not one of this reviewer’s favorite Rohmer films. There are issues with the casting – usually Rohmer’s strong suit – that prevent the film from fully capitalizing on its intriguing premise. Patrick Bachau (who has gone on to have a long and successful career, including the wonderful HBO series Carnivale) seems generally too ambivalent considering he's supposedly The Worlds Most Self Absorbed Man, and Haydee Politoff (who went on to do a couple of low budget vampire movies) simply isn't very interesting.

The slightly tomboy-ish ingénue is a Rohmer archetype, serving as the narrative lynchpin in much of his future work, and here, through Politoff’s shortcomings, we gain a deeper appreciation of the many times the director would get this character exactly right. Politoff was 20 years old when the film was made, but she photographs much younger, giving the film an accidental unattractive edge; it’s as if we’re watching the story of an older man obsessed with a bit of slutty jailbait. This is an idea Rohmer would explore with much more finesse a few years later in Clare’s Knee, and there he pulls it off thoughtfully and with a minimum of ickyness.

La Collectionneuse is a bumpy ride that will appeal mainly to hard-core Rohmer fans and completists. But we do get a peek at the evolution of the director’s unique brand of insightful humanism.

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