At the vanguard of the French New Wave
Eric Rohmer, the great French filmmaker whose death was reported today, was a sly but sympathetic observer of human folly, forever attentive to the ways intelligent and articulate people tend to over-analyze everything, even their own emotions, and very often wind up talking themselves out of opportunities for happiness. He was at the vanguard of the French New Wave during the late 1950s, alongside Francois Truffaut, Jean-Luc Godard and other impassioned young critics who gradually evolved from writing about movies to making their own.
But as Dave Kehr notes in his eloquent New York Times tribute: "In opposition both to the intensely personal, confessional tone of much of the work of Truffaut and the politically provocative films of Godard, Mr. Rohmer remained true to a restrained, rationalist aesthetic, close to the principles of the 18th-century thinkers whose words he frequently cited in his movies. And yet Mr. Rohmer’s work was warmed by an undercurrent of romanticism and erotic yearning, made perhaps all the more affecting for never quite breaking through the surface of his elegant, orderly films."
You can divine Rohmer's influence in films by such diverse directors as Whit Stillman, Steven Soderbergh, Andrew Bujalski and, especially, Richard Linklater (whose Before Sunrise is, arguably, the best Eric Rohmer movie that Rohmer himself didn't actually make). Better still, you can go back straight to the source by renting or purchasing such Rohmer masterworks as My Night at Maud's, Claire's Knee, Chloe in the Afternoon, Pauline at the Beach and Summer.
Joe Leydon writes at MovingPictureBlog.com