One of Eric Rohmer’s series Six Moral Tales, La collectionneuse revolves around Adrien (Patrick Bauchau, marvelously unpleasant), who also narrates. Adrien, who hopes to open an art gallery, might be described as generous in his self-involvement. On vacation for the first time in ten years, or so he says, he is sharing an absent friend’s St. Tropeze villa with their mutual friend, Daniel, and a stranger to them both, Haydée, who is younger. Rohmer portrays the men’s sexual interest in Haydée and the sexual tensions among all three. Bauchau, Haydée Politoff and Daniel Pommereulle came up with some of their own dialogue.
“He talks to hear himself”: Haydée says this about Adrien (it is possible she is too young to grasp the terror of the void he feels compelled to fill), and thus there is an ironical kick to Rohmer’s opening the film with Haydée, who prior to the men’s arrival is walking in long-shot along the beach. She is dressed in a bikini; her bare feet, in closeup, are kissed by the Mediterranean. (Feet figure prominently in this film.) Haydée’s walking back and forth suggests her self-uncertainty; when she stops, as though posing, the camera emphasizes some of her jagging angles: pelvis, rib cage, collar bone, shoulder blades. Her slim breasts and semi-voluptuous derriere complete a portrait of a modern (as distinct, say, from a Renaissance) ideal of woman. When we meet Adrien soon after, we realize retroactively we are seeing Haydée here through his eyes. In effect, Haydée is a touchstone for Adrien’s feelings of inadequacy and of being out of sync with the times. In a segment introducing Daniel in between, a painted cup completely covered with razor blades, which Daniel is willing to hold even though doing so makes him painfully bleed, somehow relates to the presentation of Haydée’s sharp angles. Her youth and modernity constitute a threat to both men, which they hide behind their well-practiced smug complacency and misogynism.
At the outset, before proceeding to the villa, Adrien reaches an impasse with his girlfriend, a model; he wants her to give up a shoot in London, while she wants him to take his vacation with her. Therefore, each ends up without the other; by their both pressing an unnecessary power-play, we feel it is possible that the whole relationship has ended—and ridiculously. The film, however, will close with Adrien’s booking flight to London. And why not? Despite crafty efforts, Adrien has failed to get Haydée into bed with him. But he misunderstands. Although she denies it, we see her sexual interest in Adrien. However, her denying him his sexual conquest of her is the power-play most readily available to her. We have all seen lots of comedies about the “battle of the sexes,” but few burrow as deeply or delightfully as this one does.
Haydée extends this power-play by twice having sex with Daniel. But the situation is even more complex than this suggests since, in an unconscious effort to at least “have” Haydée vicariously, Adrien has indeed instigated Daniel’s pursuit of her. (Throughout, all the main characters exhibit instances of extreme passivity and suggestibility.) Pathetically, Adrien believes, or thinks he believes, or says he believes that Haydée has sex with Daniel in an effort to corral him, Adrien! (This is projective; Adrien is the convolutedly manipulative one; a potential business partner calls him Machiavellian.) For his part, Daniel comes to feel he was a pawn of the other two’s power-plays. His parting words to Haydée, “What fascinated me [about you] is your insignificance,” is a way of striking out at both his vacation-mates.
Heartrending: the offhanded way that Haydée confesses this to Adrien: “I seldom get what I want. In fact, I’ve never had it.” The widest possible inference here is that Haydée would love to have found herself in a world where gender inequity (along with other forms of inequality) had not limited her freedom to act on her feelings and to behave without counterbalancing and exhausting power-plays.
La collectionneuse is full of Adrien’s voiceover. It evidences his lack of self-awareness. As such, it reminds us of the voiceover in Robert Bresson’s Diary of a Country Priest (1950)—except, whereas the young priest’s misunderstanding of himself and the world is the result of parochial innocence, in Adrien’s case it is the result of bruising experience. He pursues the denial of his pain and acts the ass in the process. “I am trying to find something,” Haydée says at one point. She is trying to find whatever can help her live spiritually. On the other hand, Adrien’s searches for old vases and other curios are practically motivated. When Haydée accidentally breaks a vase Adrien has sold and laughs, we see the impasse between them.