Boyfriends and Girlfriends ★★★★

A Summer’s Tale ends on a lilting note of triumph, with Gaspard escaping the soggy swamp of semi-relationships he’s created for himself, entering an exclusively creative space as opposed to one in which his focus is wasted on becoming a self-involved, double-dealing dirtbag. This one seems to wrap up with similar tidiness, the sort of neat, liberating farce conclusion Rohmer usually doesn’t allow for: both couples realize they were going after the wrong person, swap, and begin to live happily ever after. But seeing this as a happy conclusion ignores the entire mechanics of the film, the sludgy limbo of this hideous French suburban park, where all the architecture is hand-me-down and it’s possible to run into the same person seven times in one day. Rohmer’s beach town settings are incestual, but at least they’re not permanent; they represent the tendency of pleasure-seeking to create the same boring outcomes again and again. Here the ennui is a bit deeper, concerning people stuck in domestic and work-related ruts, an everyday desperation that’s often only reflected in the background.

Blanche comments that it’s like a small town, but small towns have coherent structures: roots, heritage, and history. This non-community, by contrast, is a newly-formed nest of bureaucrats and students, a place where plain white apartment blocks foster one doomed love affair after another, where the grass hasn’t grown yet, and if you’re lucky you can snag an apartment with a view of the Eiffel tower, which pokes up pathetically in the distance. Early on, Lea comments that there’s only two guys worth spending time on in this place, Fabien and Alexandre, and they’re the only ones we really meet, via the cycling of instance and coincidence that occupies the entire film. The only hint of something more occurs when Blanche, stepping out into the forest, glimpses a world utterly beyond herself, the mammoth empty space of nature, sunlight penetrating through the trees, a place people have not crafted and have no real power over. She cries, but they’re not tears of joy as she claims, resulting from the shock of her sudden awareness of her own insignificance. The blinkered, cosseted worlds we’ve constructed to limit our experience block out the sun, but they don’t destroy it, shielding an even more mystifying emptiness outside.