Pauline à la plage / Pauline at the Beach (1983)

25 08 2013

The Green Ray and A Summer’s Tale forged an immediate connection in my heart and while it’s not just because I am around the same age as the characters there, it probably doesn’t hurt. Pauline at the Beach, while unmistakably still a Rohmer film, shifts the focus. While one could separate the films by the milleu of the characters, they all seem to unified by the disappointment and frustration of life. The perspective is different, though, as 15 year old Pauline is young and naive. The film might be considered a life lesson for her, but that sounds more didactic than the execution. This is a coming-of-age story but even in dealing with sexual awakening, Rohmer hasn’t sacrificed his observations on relationships for something more salacious.


Marion takes her much younger cousin, Pauline, with her on a vacation to Normandy. Upon arriving, the two run into Pierre, Marion’s old flame who she left behind to get married. Her marriage is about to come to close and Pierre’s intentions are well-known. He introduces her to Henri, who Marion immediately takes a liking to. In contrast to Pierre’s romanticism, Henri is comfortable and laid-back, and much like Marion, he is fresh off an unsuccessful marriage. All of this happens through Pauline’s eyes who is somewhat disillusioned by the childish behavior of these grown adults. In the mean time, she meets Sylvain, a young boy, at the beach.


This might be the most lying I’ve ever seen in a Rohmer film and fittingly, the man himself described the film itself as essentially learning about lying. As the title suggests, the main character here is Pauline but she is not exactly the individual who does the most things in this film. Instead, like Rohmer himself, she merely observes what her older Marion does. She learns about relationships from her both in conversation (the film opens with the two discussing romance) as well as in how she acts. The scene where Pierre is first introduced includes Marion skipping towards him in a manner that seems far too forced. Throughout the film, she does seem to be putting on something of a performance, but Henri does the same. Pierre plays the “honest and nice” angle but some of his outbursts reveal that he really isn’t that.


Pauline seems to learn from these performances, but she also is well aware that they aren’t entirely truthful. The ending seems to suggest she understands heterosexual relationships better than Marion, who has delusional thoughts of being in a serious relationship with Henri. If reality is any indication, Pauline will eventually become so deeply involved in love, that she won’t be able to still the strings that hold up the way we communicate with people romantically. This isn’t entirely removed from Gaspard’s struggle in A Summer’s Tale, where his fullest relationship is the one he has with Margot and it precisely because he viewed her as a friend from the start. He, like the rest of the adults in Pauline at the Beach, knows there’s a “difference” in potential romantic partner. The tragedy, of course, is love is more likely when you can be honest with a person. This revelation sounds worthy of a Hallmark card when written out, but it feels more authentic when expressed through Rohmer’s camera.


Calling Pauline a “comedy of manners”  might not be the most ringing endorsement for some, but it has something to say about the way we’re socialized to conduct ourselves. As the film is about “learning to lie” it’s not lying in the conventional sense, though Henri is able to lie convincingly in that way to Marion when he almost gets caught sleeping with Louisette. The tragedy of the film might not be the in protagonist (who we place most of our sympathies) but instead in Marion, who seems unwilling to wise up to reality. Pauline, in comparison, seems better equipped for the dating world, if not the world in general. Marion’s situation is quasi-tragic, but the film’s biggest emotional hit comes from Pauline. She has her entire life ahead of her, but there’s something really bittersweet about a lost summer romance.




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