While Eric Rohmer’s cinema is appreciated for its study of human mores, his approach to art is still little known. However, there is a Matisse in a room in Pauline à la Plage (1983), Mondrian’s Neo-plastic architecture in Nuits de la plein lune (1984), or even a Picasso in Rendezvous in Paris (1995). ). The work is never purely decorative, it even becomes an essential key to La Collectionneuse (1967), whose second prologue mixes reflections on art and free thought.
“The collector” is the nickname given by Adrien and Daniel to Haydée, a young woman who goes on a chain of conquests, and with whom they live together for a summer in a friend’s country house. As in all of the films in the Six Moral Tales cycle, the story follows the same thread: a man (here, Adrien) loves a woman and is interested for a while in another (Haydée), before returning to the first. Around this nucleus revolve characters from the art world: the gallerist Adrien, the artist Daniel, the art critic (Alain Jouffroy himself) and the collector Sam. Rohmer then uses self-reflective characters, making play the artist to a real artist of the same first name: Daniel is thus interpreted by Daniel Pommereulle, avant-garde plastic artist of the twentieth century who tried his hand at drawing and painting before perfecting himself in the assembly of everyday objects . His closeness to the character thus allows the filmmaker to retain his idiosyncrasy, which he confronts with other personalities in the film.
It was in the second prologue that Daniel debated his real work, Objet hors sais (Center Pompidou, 1965), alongside his equally true friend and supporter Alain Jouffroy. It’s about a pot of yellow paint, surrounded by thirty-nine razor blades that make it elusive. The critic analyzes it as “the only one who bases his cause on nothing, and who is surrounded by his own thought like razor blades” which are “the word, perhaps also the silence, perhaps also the elegance, a certain yellow ”. This sharp aesthetic embodies the structure of the independent mind whose cruelty is necessarily exerted on those who act only by convention. The emptiness surrounding being is a projection of oneself onto the world which is reminiscent of the seeming peculiar to dandyism. What Alain Jouffroy reveals to be the self-portrait of Daniel, whose objects are there only to reveal his essence.
In the same way in the Rohmérien cinema, art, like a religious icon, wants to reveal a supreme idea which will be put to the test (just like the fresco of Don Quixote in Le Knee de Claire) . He introduces the story as a true scout without ever supplanting the real, so that the main aesthetic object of the film is found in the lived experience of the characters, embodied by the tempting figure of Haydée. This free and mischievous young woman acts according to her wishes without worrying about any morals. His easy and regular conquests above all mark a deep lack that seeks to be filled. But this frank immorality greatly disturbs the two dandies who have come to isolate themselves in a hermitage, fortified by moral discourses which they regard as the character of a free spirit. Apparently tired of the disorder of nightlife, they defend an ethic of love, based on requirements that must counter the natural.
Facing Haydée, Adrien and Daniel quickly understand that they are dealing with an Object that cannot be captured, although they struggle to admit that it can be sharp. Both are unsettled by the young woman, whom they each understand in their own way – the gallerist sees her more as a work whose meaning resists him, while the artist approaches it noticeably as an object to be experienced and to be disapproved of. Despite everything, they hide from each other the imbalance it creates in them, as a demonstration of their moral solidity. After spending the first night with Haydée, Daniel pretends to ignore her with Adrien so as not to recognize the betrayal of his speech. But the two friends are caught in their own trap: by wanting to cut others, they end up cutting themselves. In order not to give in, Adrien and Daniel team up in the “exercice de la cruauté” (exercise of cruelty, G. Bataille) in order to destabilize the one who threatens them. In the form of a full-blown trial, they condemn her to being just a “moral slut”, collecting conquests at random from encounters, without premeditating her actions. But the two men are once again powerless in the face of the young woman’s indifference, which only sheds light on their many contradictions.
Thus, Adrien and Daniel are “surrounded” by a moral discourse which necessarily places itself in a conflicting relationship with otherness. Like real dandies, they seek to exclude themselves from all social presuppositions, in order to establish themselves as the uncollectible Object. Not without irony, with characters adopting a somewhat feigned posture – Adrien ends up fleeing Haydée at the chance of a meeting which brings him back to his initial love – Rohmer therefore summons the work of art to introduce the driving idea before the ‘act. The whole question of the film is whether the apparent convictions of the two dandies will survive despite the temptation to transgress. In this, La Collectionneuse is a good illustration of the constant instability of contemporary man whose moral precepts, in perpetual imbalance, can only survive through the expression of “violence fatale”. (Daniel Pommereulle).
Translated from “Revoir La Collectionneuse sous l’esthétique du tranchant” by Romane Fraysse.