During a holiday in the countryside, a Parisian teenager Mirabelle meets a country girl Reinette, who lives in a converted barn and whose interests include nature and art. The two girls quickly become friends and Mirabelle offers to share her Paris apartment with Reinette when the latter says she is planning to attend art classes there. Through a series of everyday incidents, involving a stroppy waiter, a shoplifter, a confidence trickster and an art dealer, the two girls discover huge differences in their moral judgements and in the way they treat others...
Having completed his film cycle Comédies et proverbes and before starting his next cycle Contes des quatres saisons, Eric Rohmer wrote and directed this enchanting film which comprises four modern parables about morality and conscience in modern life. With its pleasing combination of comedy and intelligent dialogue, it is possibly the director’s most accessible film, and it is certainly one of his most entertaining.
The first part of the film introduces the two girls Reinette and Mirabelle and contrasts their attitudes and personalities. Reinette is self-taught, a solitary person who cannot stop talking when she is in the company of others. Mirabelle is more mature, less idealistic, but whereas she has been conditioned by her state education, Reinette has had the opportunity to form her own views, although some of these are embarrassingly naïve. The two girls form a bond of friendship when they experience the magical "blue hour", a brief moment of silence in the early hours of the morning.
The film then shifts to Paris for the next instalment, where Reinette becomes the victim of both an ill-mannered café waiter and her over-developed conscience. If she had endured the same, Mirabelle would have stuck up two fingers and walked away. Reinette, however, is determined to score a moral victory – in vain.
In the third adventure, Rohmer uses the two girls to argue opposing views in a number of moral dilemmas about when it is appropriate to help others – should you give money to beggars, should you help a shoplifter to avoid being arrested, and so on – showing that to every moral perspective there is an equally valid counter viewpoint.
The film ends with a quirky satire about exploitation, where Reinette uses emotional blackmail to sell a painting to an art-dealer who originally set out to exploit her. The two girls naively think they have won the day, but of course they haven’t: the world is much wiser than they think they are.
Although the film is noticeably lighter than much of Rohmer’s other work (occasionally veering towards farce), it has a great deal in common with some of his better known films. The dialogue has that uniquely Rohmeresque combination of well thought-out incisiveness and spontaneity, the two main characters are so fully developed that you feel you have known them for years. The eye-pleasing documentary-style photography creates the illusion that most of the film was shot from real life, totally unscripted.
What is most striking about this film, particular to those who are familiar with Rohmer’s work, is the extent to which the director uses comedy. Some parts of the film are outrageously funny, in the best tradition of intelligent comic satire. One reason why the film is so entertaining is because the audience can easily recognise their own experiences in the comic situations – the best example being the scene with the congenitally rude Parisian waiter, in which every American tourist's worst experience of Paris is condensed into a side-splittingly funny five minute sketch. 8 http://filmsdefrance.com/FDF_Reinette_et_Mirabelle.html )
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