CHLOE IN THE AFTERNOON (Eric Rohmer, 1972)

“Since I have been married, I find all women beautiful.”

What does that mean? It is part of lead character Frédéric’s voiceover narration in L’amour, l’après-midi, the last of writer-director Eric Rohmer’s “Six Moral Tales,” whose title refers to time taken off from work at his own law office to have an affair with Chloé. Frédéric (Bernard Verley, excellent) is married to Hélène, and the couple have a baby. Marriage, Frédéric feels, has “closed in on [him],” priming him for some sort of escape.
     Again, what does Frédéric’s remark at the heading here mean? Not that marital contentment has widened his sympathy for the opposite gender. Rather, having a woman of his own, with a wedding band to prove it, has allowed Frédéric to feel attracted to many more women besides, because he no longer has to put himself out in an attempt to attract and seduce them. Like the future Jimmy Carter, though, he lusts in his heart—now more widely than ever.
     In his recurrent dream, Frédéric wears around his neck a device (a displaced wedding band?) that divests women of their free will; it has already divested him of his. Hence Chloé.
     The cumulative effect of his voiceover, as though just watching him and listening to his dialogue weren’t enough, is to assign two signature traits to Frédéric, which he shares, one suspects, with nearly all (at least male) lawyers: complacency; self-absorption. Bursting through these attributes, although perhaps only beginning the spanking that Frédéric has coming, is Hélène’s breakdown. As Rohmer’s both delightful and painful comedy ends, Hélène is sobbing in her repentent spouse’s arms.
     Zouzou as Chloé was a bit of bliss; but Hélène is real—and a down payment on free will, marital happiness, God’s approval and eternity.

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