* Director: Eric Rohmer
* Script: Eric Rohmer
* Photo: Nicolas Hayer
* Music: Louis Saguer
* Cast: Jess Hahn (Pierre Wesselrin), Michèle Girardon (Dominique Laurent), Van Doude (Jean-François Santeuil), Paul Bisciglia (Willy), Gilbert Edard (Michel Caron), Stéphane Audran (La patronne de l'hôtel), Marie Dubois
* Country: France
* Language: French
* Runtime: 103 min; B&W
* Aka: The Sign of Leo
Pierre Wesselrin, an impoverished musician living in Paris, receives a telegram one morning notifying him that his wealthy aunt has died. As she had only two living relatives, Pierre assumes that he will inherit her fortune, and he hastily invites all his friends to a party to celebrate the good news. The next day, he discovers that he has been disinherited and that his idiotic cousin has inherited everything. Penniless, Pierre is evicted from his lodgings, and, with all his friends now away from Paris, either working or on holiday abroad, he is forced to live and sleep on the streets...
Eric Rohmer’s first full length film is this tragicomic tale of one man’s spiral descent into poverty and isolation. Whilst the film shows Rohmer’s inexperience as a filmmaker too clearly and also suffers from some quite obvious flaws – most notably the awkward references to astrology and preordained fate – it is a compelling and, on balance, poignant work which makes some valid statements about human nature.
Any film which broaches the issue of homeliness is unlikely to do justice to the subject and to capture fully the tragedy of this predicament, but this film goes some way towards achieving this aim. Pierre’s increasingly desperate attempts to find food and to hold his shoes together are simultaneously funny and agonisingly moving – as in many of Rohmer’s later films, it is these small details which can have a big effect on the audience.
The film certainly lacks the playful spontaneity and realism of Rohmer’s more recent film - the contrived happy ending being a particular disappointment. Despite the jarring artificiality of the narrative, the cinematography is quite impressive, almost as mesmerising as in Rohmer’s better known films. The eloquent location filming in Paris manages to match very well the mood of the central character – vibrant and fun when Pierre is celebrating his assumed inheritance, melancholic when he realises he has inherited nothing after all, and cruel when he finds himself alone and penniless. The photography is distinctively Nouvelle Vague, and, appropriately, one of Rohmer’s contemporaries, Jean-Luc Godard, makes a silent cameo appearance near the start of the film.
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