(director/writer: Eric Rohmer; screenwriters: Patrick Bauchau/Haydee Politoff/Daniel Pommereulle; cinematographer: Nestor Almendros; editor: Jackie Raynal; cast: Haydée Politoff (Haydée), Patrick Bauchau (Adrien), Daniel Pommereulle (Daniel), Eugene Archer (Sam Hertzberg), Mijanou Bardot (Carole), Annik Morice (Amie de Carole ), Donald Cammell (Boy at St. Tropez), Alain Jouffroy (Writer); Runtime: 88; Rome Paris Films/ Films Du Losange; 1967-France)

“The film radiates with the charms derived from so-called sophisticated pleasures and a sneaky sense of perversion.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

La Collectionneuse” is the third of director-writer Eric Rohmer’s six moral tales, each with the same theme of a man torn between two women. This is the first one of these tales to be done as a full-length feature and the first to receive international recognition for Rohmer (it won the Special Jury Prize at Berlin). It was done on an extremely low budget, where the actors received no pay but were promised a percentage of the profits.

Rohmer was a film critic and editor six years for Cahiers du Cinema, his love of cinema is based on his belief that film is the last refuge of poetry. For this series of films, he thought why not keep the same theme, just switch the story around. He was concerned with how a man faced with a moral dilemma will handle it. The story is based on how a man uses his intellect to go against his instincts, but succeeds only in bringing up his repressed desires. It is quite evident that Rohmer finds the women in this story more interesting than the men, even if the main woman is impossible to understand. This is Rohmer before he mastered his craft, but there are signs here of the greatness that was to come in his later films as its fierce rawness makes up for its lack of a sophisticated form.

France’s New Wave (Godard, Truffaut, Rivette and Chabrol), which Rohmer was initially part of until he later on was rejected by them as being a reactionary, started in the 1950s and peaked by the late 1960s. Nowadays Rohmer films are out of favor with modern audiences, and are considered old-fashioned. His films seem to attract an audience mostly aged 50 or older and those looking for something less spectacular to hone in on than what is typically seen in today’s films. In the ’50s and ’60s the opposite was true as he attracted mainly a college-age or twentysomething bohemian audience, those who thought his films were revolutionary.

The film opens with the teen-ager Haydée (Politoff), who is a bikini-clad collector of men, strolling on the beach of St. Tropez. The drama hinges on how the two self-centered men she temporarily shares a friend’s villa with, the handsome curio dealer Adrien (Bauchau) and the fixated painter Daniel (Pommereulle, a real-life artist), react to her. The film is loaded with erotic tension as Rohmer’s camera remains fixed on her perfect body, her pagan-like bronzed figure and her attractive short-cropped haircut. He lets us analyze her not just for her beauty but why she has a need to sleep with a different man each night, doing it at the spur of the moment without much thought.

The film’s central figure is Adrien who is first seen with an English woman (Mijanou), whom he tries to lure to St. Tropez but she insists that he go to London with her. He tells her that he can’t, that he is meeting his partner who will buy for him some Chinese curios and go partners in a gallery. In this opening prologue Carole and her friend are conversing about what beauty is, with her friend saying ugliness is an insult to others — that she can’t stand to be around ugly people.

Adrien brings his friend Daniel along with him to St. Tropez, as both decide that they want to enjoy themselves in isolation and serenity. The sexy Haydée is also staying at their friend’s villa, and tempts them. They first see her with a boy of her same age (Cammell), who is sleeping with her in the room next to Adrien’s. The noise from their sex prevents Adrien from sleeping, so he sends the boy away but she decides to remain. The two men convince themselves that this tart can’t seduce them, that they will be happy in becoming one with the nature around them.

This film is all about the romantic chase and how these three play it as a game. Rohmer puts all of them under the microscope. He is more concerned about what they are thinking than he is in their actions. Some of the talk is witty but not comical, some of it is merely egotistical babble; but the film never fails to be diverting, aiming for the small dilemmas one has in life as being the most important things.

Warning: spoiler to follow in the next paragraph.

Adrien is the most annoying of the three, being the most smug, the one who counts on his good looks and elitist intellectualism to smother the other person. He treats the girl as a tart, which hides his interest in her; and, he tries to push her off on Daniel, while refusing to make a pass at her. His voiceover tells of his calculated moves and his egotistical attitude, where he talks himself into believing that this girl is so interested in seducing him that she will put up with all his bullshit. She continues to see other men in town remaining indifferent toward him, while returning to the villa to read books clad in her bikini. The two men act rude to her until she does obey Adrien’s wishes and stays with Daniel, though it is not made clear if they had sex. When Adrien’s antique dealer partner Sam (Archer) arrives, he pushes her off on the older man. When she accidentally breaks a valuable Chinese 10th century Song vase, Sam gets angry; but, Adrien goes to comfort her. The two ride away from Sam’s villa and it seems that he will sleep with her at last, admitting to himself that he failed to win her the way he wanted to. On the road they pass some boys she knows, who stop to talk her into going with them. Adrien reacts impulsively jealous, suddenly driving off and leaving her with the boys when a car behind honks so he can give them room to pass. In the last shot, he is calling the airport to make a plane reservation to go to London.

This is a wry film not suited for all tastes, but it is a good introduction to the early Rohmer that has a lot to say about human nature and says it in a very French way. The film radiates with the charms derived from so-called sophisticated pleasures and a sneaky sense of perversion.