Éric Rohmer, Le Rayon vert (Summer), 1986, stills from a color film in 35 mm, 98 minutes.


DELPHINE, the fretful and fussy antiheroine of Éric Rohmer’s Le Rayon vert (The Green Ray, 1986; originally released in North America as Summer), may be at a loss for those all-important July-August vacation plans, but she doesn’t lack for friends and strangers telling her where to go or how to live. Still brittle two years after a broken engagement, which is echoed by a friend’s last-minute change in travel itinerary at the film’s opening, the pale Parisian will find herself, for example, airily defending vegetarianism to a table full of people she barely knows, or watching a Swedish girl she meets on a topless beach trade interminable flirtations with a doofus pickup.

Delphine’s melancholia and loneliness attract the attention of others, but amid these interventions by concerned extroverts, her breakdowns and sudden flights accrue into a portrayal of a not-so-poetic doldrums, even depression. Rohmer makes her mood recognizable from inside and outside through her tetchy clinging to sadness and the frustration of friends trying to help. The bracing, craggy seasides she explores alone, the sandy stretches of anonymous crowds, and the alfresco chats provide little escape. “For Éric Rohmer, leisure is the supreme spiritual test faced by modern men and women,” wrote Phillip Lopate, mostly not kidding.

Shooting on 16 mm, Rohmer catches partly improvised conversations, allowing overlapping dialogue and casual gestures (as when one of Delphine’s friends turns her attention to a magazine on a side table). Played by Marie Rivière, Delphine speaks in a fluttering self-revising rush, vacillating between assertion and confession; whenever she gives up and her tears flow, which happens more than once, it feels unexpected and real, a break in the etiquette of smooth surfaces. And yet her romanticism is just as palpable: When she finally takes steps to dig herself out of a hole, she seems to believe in her success only upon seeing the titular rayon vert, glimpsed for a mere moment at day’s end.

Nicolas Rapold

Le Rayon vert (Summer) will screen at BAMcinématek in New York from June 9–15.