La collectionneuse (1967)

4 11 2013

Supposedly, this is a bit of a transition film for Rohmer. Perhaps it’s more of a geographic thing, though. This was the first time that he took himself away from the streets of Paris to a remote vacation spot. This is where most of his best films are set, and indeed, the characters here refer to themselves as “on vacation” much like the protagonist in later masterpieces like A Summer Tale or The Green Ray. With nothing happen to the characters in terms of events, we’re once again treated to a story involved in one’s neurosis. As he showed throughout his career, there is the idea here that love is complicated. Or maybe we’re just too dumb to care.


Adrien takes a vacation in the French Riviera. He hopes for a peaceful and quiet stay, and plans his days accordingly: he’ll get up early every morning to swim, he’ll keep to himself, go to bed early. His bedroom is a reflection of his almost ascetic nature: it’s entirely bare but for a bed and a window. He’s still bothered, most notably by the presence of Haydee and less so by the presence of Daniel. He and Daniel see themselves as intellectuals and they both position the younger Haydee as being a frivolous and far too loose girl. While Adrien reminds us frequently that Haydee is below him, he begins developing a crush in spite of his own words.


Admittedly, I find a lot of what Rohmer is trying to say here is actually not all that profound or amazing. Yes, the wise men are actually bumbling fools who try to justify their assumed superiority over a less intelligent and more sexually active girl. This isn’t the most revolutionary statement on heterosexual relations. Men today, after all, still have a problem with a woman being sexually active. Rohmer paints this in a clever way, though. We never see Haydee’s “immoral behavior” except for when Adrien first meets her. Sure, a first impression being powerful isn’t something new, but it is a crucial decision on the filmmaker’s part. Because Adrien instinctually sees all women through their sexual potential. In Haydee’s case, Adrien has already seen this potential fulfilled as soon as he meets her. Sure, it’s not between them, but the fact that she’s so open about herself sexually is what makes him disinterested. At least, this is what he tells himself.


It’s sort of inevitable that Adrien falls for Haydee. Again, it’s Rohmer’s framing of this that makes such a predictable development work. Never does Adrien, despite having the benefit of a first person voiceover, mention anything about desiring Haydee in a serious way. Instead, he speaks of wanting to “have” her and referring to her feelings as a game. Since he assumes she’ll hop in bed with anyone, he makes the leap to also assume she’ll hop in bed with him. In his most revealing moment, he gently touches her leg and says “it’s wrong to caress a girl one dislikes.” For all his equivocating about Haydee’s “confusing” sexual expression, Adrien himself seems to be just as, if not more, unclear about his motivations. We see him aspire for tenderness with Haydee, but his dialogue seems to be written with the intention of disguising such feelings.


I feel like it’s necessary to explain that Adrien is just a villain. He’s frustrating, hypocritical, and nearly impossible to like. In finding him fascinating, I by no means want to insinuate that there’s something positive in his behavior. However, I still do find him interesting. He  sees himself isolated (if not above) society, as evidenced by the vacation he takes. His attitude towards Haydee’s lifestyle is still reflective of the society he claims to  have rejected. Adrien is not all that different from most of my peers. An intelligent and sensitive dude who, at the very same time, seems dubious and disinterested in the feelings of women, or at least Haydee in particular. He’d protest that it has nothing to do with her being woman, but when the root of his critique is founded in her sexual activity, it has everything to do with her being a woman.


In focusing on Adrien’s hypocrisy, I’ve overlooked other dynamics. Haydee is the perfect foil for him, but in a way, she fails to gain the depth of most of the other women I’ve seen in Rohmer’s films. It could be intentional, this film is about Adrien and his temptation. While she has her moments, the film’s prologue suggests that it’s not her movie. The audience is treated to three prologues introducing Haydee, Adrien, and Daniel. Haydee is photographed walking around the beach, with a jarring cut to her feet gently rubbing against pebbles in the water. It’s a male gaze scene if I’ve ever seen one, but it is intentional and crucial. It establishes the roles of the characters. Haydee is photographed as if Adrien, which is a fitting introduction for the film’s power lays in how Adrien frames Haydee. The attitude he brings towards the relationship is informed by this sequence. The camera limits itself to viewing Haydee’s sexuality, which is all Adrien  can see. The fact that this is the film’s most sensual scene is telling: her sexuality is a controlling image constructed by society.


A year following its release, most of La collectionneuse‘s staff were heavily involved in political activism. The events of May 1968 seem a world away from the lives of three or four bourgeois on vacation in the French Riviera. While their social status would mark their struggles as inconsequential and silly, it would be a mistake to characterize Rohmer’s film as apolitical. Here, Adrien has constructed an image of a woman, one made up of found pieces from the dominant discourse and his own heart. The two sources influence each other, of course, but Adrien’s misunderstanding of women is a political conceit. He is not unlike most men, which is what makes Rohmer’s portrait of him more piercing. Late in the film, he’s driving back to the resort with Haydee. The voiceover hints that something physical may happen between them. Then, they’re stopped by an oncoming car driven by a friend of Haydee. This friend is trying to get her to go with him. Meanwhile, Adrien is holding traffic up. Eventually, he gives up waiting for Haydee and drives off. The connection might be reductive but Adrien gives up on this relationship because of the pressures of society, which are embodied by the impatient drivers behind him. He convinces himself he’s made the right decision. He returns to a safer life. Perhaps Haydee could have liberated him, but isn’t it also sort of fucked up to put such an expectation on a person? It’s not that uncommon.