Translucent Being: Éric Rohmer

About not well known documentary work of French pedagogue Éric Rohmer

Celluloid and Marble (Éric Rohmer, 1955)

Although the documentary work of Éric Rohmer is not well known, it is important for an understanding of his fiction films. Rohmer’s first profession was as a teacher, which helped open his path to Radio-Télévision Scolaire (Educational Radio-Television). His feature-film debut The Sign of Leo (1962) placed him firmly among the French New Wave. He edited the leading film magazine Cahiers du cinema (Notebooks on Cinema), but found himself unemployed when he was fired in 1963. Through a series of fortunate circumstances, he ended up working for the National Teaching Institute, which produced educational programs for a television station that was broadcast at schools. At the same time, Rohmer also shot several documentaries through his production company, Les Films du Losange, most of them on commission from various government ministries. He continued making documentaries until the 1970s. During this decade, he made around thirty documentary films of varying character. We have selected twelve of these and divided them into four thematic groups presenting Rohmer’s new approach to documentaries about filmmakers, his vision of educational films, and his purely documentary work such as his distinctive form of cinematic essay.

In his educational films, Rohmer combined his experiences as a teacher and as a filmmaker. He contributed to writing the film, interviewed the film’s subjects, and sometimes decided the staging, cinematography, sound, and editing. It is also interesting to note that Rohmer wrote teaching materials to go along with the films. He also included various forms of art according to his own tastes and interests: poetry (Poe, Hugo, Mallarmé, Chrétien de Troyes), painting (La Bruyère, Percival, Don Quixote), architecture (La béton dans la ville, Victor Hugo architecte, Les métamorphoses du paysage), and of course film (e.g., Boudu Saved from Drowning and Atalanta, or Louis Lumière as the first movie director). He also explored other subjects, including mathematics, the natural sciences, history, philosophy, geography, literature, and foreign languages. In 1964–1970, Rohmer made 28 educational films for schools. He explored various documentary approaches (interview, intimate diary, visual montage, narration, costume drama), which he later used in feature films such as My Night at Maud’s, The Marquise of O, Perceval le Gallois, The Tree, The Mayor, and the Mediatheque, and The Lady and the Duke.

Nadja in Paris (Éric Rohmer, 1964)

Other documentary films were made through Les Films du Losange, which Rohmer co-founded with Barbet Schroeder. These include a series of short films on French women at work commissioned by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for the Alliance Française and for French embassies and consulates abroad. In September 1963, Rohmer made the first of these films – the story of a foreign student called Nadja in Paris, which convinced the ministry to order three more films about women: a student (Une étudiante d’aujourd’hui), a farmer (Fermière à Montfaucon), and an athlete, although the last film was never made.

The third group of documentaries consists of Rohmer’s essays on film, art, and other philosophical subjects. Éric Rohmer tried to come up with a system of art in which film played an important, almost redemptive role. He addressed this subject in a series of articles entitled Celluloid and Marble (1955), in which he looked at various forms of artistic modernism. In his view modernism was exhausted, with abstraction its final chapter. By comparison, he believed that film could find the beauty and spiritual dimension of the world, and he continued to develop this idea in his documentary film of the same name:

“Not only must the image serve to better understand the text, but the text must serve to better understand the image, that is, the world. What is education for if not to improve our understanding of life or of art in general? And the great authors are interesting to study not only because they were stylistic craftsmen, but also because they gave us a new and different idea of the world.”

Éric Rohmer





more articles from a section:  Theme

1+2.19Emerging Czech female documentariansIs there a new tide of emerging female documentarians in Czech cinema? What’s fascinating about the work of Czech female filmmakers like Johana Ožvold, Greta Stocklassa or Viera Čákany?Will Tizard
1.18Exprmntl.cz Through Eyes of American Journalist Daniel WalberAmerican freelance critic Daniel Walber focuses on a bunch of Czech experimental movies which were screened at the 21st Ji.hlava International Documentary Film Festival in the Fascinations: Exprmntl.cz section.Daniel Walber
2.17Why Series SuckCritical essay about the phenomenon Quality TVHanjo Berressem, Nadine Boljkovac
1.17Haptic/Visual Identities – A project between art and researchAgata Mergler and Cristian Villavicencio about their haptic camerasAgata Mergler, Cristian Villavicencio
4.16Winners of the jubilee 20th edition of Jihlava IDFFComments on the winners of 20th Jihlava IDFF by the festival editorial teamTereza Hadravová, Veronika Jančová, Kateřina Šardická, Janis Prášil
F5.16Winners of the jubilee 20th edition of Jihlava IDFFComments on the winners of 20th Jihlava IDFF by the festival editorial teamTereza Hadravová, Veronika Jančová, Kateřina Šardická, Janis Prášil
F3.16Ji.hlava ManifestoWatch Ji.hlava Manifesto online
4.16Transparent Landscape: TurkeyComing to terms with the past, the clash of cultures, and intellectual reflections on everyday life – just three aspects of a country larger than Ukraine and as unknown as the OrientTomáš Doruška, Âkile Nazlı Kaya
4.16The Russian Avant-GardeThe pioneer of the moving image – Dziga Vertov – and other significant figures of the Russian interwar avant-garde explore not only Soviet society, but, even more importantly, art and the nature of the medium of mediaBriana Čechová
4.16Translucent Being: Bill MorrisonCreation methods of the American experimental filmmaker and documentarian Bill Morrison, who uses a variety of damaged celluloid strips in his films; most often, however, those damaged by the ravages of time.Andrea Slováková, Štěpánka Součková

starší články

4.16DOK.REVUE
October 17, 2016


from current issue:

New releaseOn Adultery as Mirror of Our Own SelvesBarbora Jíchová Tyson, a visual artist, who has been living in America for seventeen years, has finished her first feature film Talking About Adultery this year. According to the author, the film is an essayistic collage and represents a perspective on humanity, which holds the mirror up to us all.Barbora Jíchová TysonNew releaseFREMWhat is it like to shoot a film in Antarctica? Is it possible to get into the head of artificial intelligence? And what is GAI? All this is described by the documentarist Viera Čákanyová in the text she wrote about her new film FREM in dok.revue.Viera ČákanyováNew releaseHavel Speaking, Can You Hear Me?What were the two last years in the life of former dissident, ex-president Václav Havel like? How did he reflect on the fact that he was gradually leaving this world? Documentarian Petr Jančárek talks about his upcoming documentary film capturing the final stretch of Havel’s, life, the rough cut of which was shown at the Ji.hlava IDFF in the Studio 89 section marking this year’s anniversary of the so-called Velvet Revolution.Petr JančárekThemeEmerging Czech female documentariansIs there a new tide of emerging female documentarians in Czech cinema? What’s fascinating about the work of Czech female filmmakers like Johana Ožvold, Greta Stocklassa or Viera Čákany?Will TizardSportHow to Teach Documentary FilmmakingThis year’s Ji.hlava IDFF offered a panel discussion on how documentary filmmaking is taught in Visegrad countries. Methods used to teach documentary filmmaking in different V4 countries were discussed by lecturers from selected schools. Vít Janeček introduced documentary courses at Prague’s FAMU, Attila Kékesi represented Hungarian University of Theatre and Film Arts in Budapest, Viera Čákanyová talked about study programmes at Slovak Academy of Performing Arts in Bratislava – VSMU, and Maria Zmarz-Koczanowicz discussed documentary education at National Film School in Lodz. What emerged from their fruitful discussion? Vít Janeček, Kamila Boháčková, Maria Zmarz-Koczanowicz, Attila Kékesi, Peter KerekesPoemThe reanimation of Mr. PuiuKhavn De La CruzReviewA Place to Take a BreathThe film journalist Janis Prášil compares two documentary portraits of this year – Forman vs. Forman and Jiří Suchý: Tackling Life with Ease on his blog.Janis PrášilReview Music as a Lag Between Death and InfinityJanis Prášil ruminates on Solo – this year´s winner of Ji.hlava Czech Joy section – which comes to cinemas. Did the picture succeed in depicting the inner world, so hard to portray, of a mentally ill musician? And what if it is the illness itself which enables people to take a look into the grievous core of being?Janis PrášilReviewOn Sounds by ImageThe film journalist Antonín Tesař writes about the new film The Sound Is Innocent directed by Johana Ožvold.Antonín TesařInterviewGreta Stoklassa: I Read Rather than Preach the RealityAn interview with the director Greta StoklassaKamila BoháčkováInterviewTo Surprise MyselfWhile the main competition at the International Karlovy Vary Film Festival does not feature any Czech title, the festival’s documentary section has one Czech film to offer: A documentary road movie by Martin Mareček entitled Over the Hills exploring the relationship between a father and a son, as well as the distance that separates us from others. Unlike his previous socially engaged films, the latest title provides a personal and intimate insight. But as Martin Mareček put it in his interview for dok.revue – what is intimate is universal. Marek Hovorka, Petr Kubica, Kamila BoháčkováInterviewKarel Vachek: Films Just Have to Make You Laugh!One of the most original Czech filmmakers Karel Vachek made his ninth film novel called Communism and the Net or the End of Representative Democracy. Fifty years after Prague Spring and thirty years after the Velvet Revolution, Karel Vachek “with his inner laughter” looks back on the evolution of our society and predicts a transformation to direct democracy based on the possibilities of the internet that will allow for the engagement of the whole mankind without the need of representatives. His film Communism will be screened at the beginning of next year at the International Film festival Rotterdam.Kamila BoháčkováIntroductionCzech docs of the year 2019Welcome at the English double issue of dok.revue 2019. This winter issue looks back upon the Czech documentary scene in the year 2019 and serves as an annual book of the most (internationally) interesting Czech documentaries and articles about them at dok.revue.Kamila Boháčkovávideo dok.revueMasterclass: Sergej Dvorcevoj23rd Ji.hlava International Documentary Film Festival