Film Notes: The Tree, the Mayor and the Mediatheque (1993) by Éric Rohmer

The film thrives as a sociological narrative that explores the infinite dimensions of the human psyche operating as the foundation of society, but the self-conscious final sequence mars some finer edges by appearing like a satire within a satire.

3.5 out of 4

Man with an agenda

It has often been said that the plot is not the main focus in Éric Rohmer’s films. That his characters stood at the center of his films with their ideologies and objectives. I personally feel this is not true, because if not for the plot, how could we as audience end up laughing at these very characters by the end of his films? It was always the plot that put the protagonists in complex situations. Situations that ultimately proved that the characters did not have self-sufficient ideologies.

In fact, Rohmer was more conscious of his plot development than any of his French Nouvelle Vague colleagues. His protagonists present their philosophies directly right at the beginning of his films. This is true for Pauline at the Beach, My Night at Maud’s, Full Moon in Paris, and a few others. The unpredictability of the unfolding of the plot is where the joy lies in these films. The characters learn things about themselves, and we derive a deeper understanding of humanity.

Here, however, there really is no plot. I am guessing someone must have whispered in Rohmer’s ears that his stories were not sociologically resonant enough. Therefore, he puts his cherishable intimate dramatic narratives in the backseat and puts an absolute focus on the nature of the development of the society. But the highlight still is the characters. And their agendas.

All for the next generation

But the film is not about the nature of its characters. Rather, what they have to say about specific issues. The focus here is the Mediatheque. The key participants in the subsequent debate are a socialist politician and a school teacher. It is to the credit of Rohmer the writer that these two characters present viewpoints that support the same issue. Both are anti-modernist, like Rohmer himself. Yet, their individual interpretations of the subject are subtly different. But it is to the extent that they seem to collide with each other.

Therefore, it is tragic that they never come across one another. If they met and talked, they would have realized that the ground was common enough. This would have led to the emergence of new ideas. Diverging ideas encountering each other, or not, forms another key theme of the film. Through this, Rohmer deviates from another of his pre-established pillars, communication, or interaction between characters as the basis for the inception of new thoughts.

Lack of this highlights the hypocrisy forever underlying within human society. If you are thinking enough for society, how come there exists another perspective about the same issue which is equally convincing? How does a child come up with another idea and prove it to be equally correct? But of course, you stand by your own idea. Because it is naturally the best way for the next generation.

A Satire within a satire

Questions Rohmer asks in the film might not produce definite answers, but these contradictions are what builds up the modern society. Through such, the film is as much a celebration of the divergences of the society as it is a satire. However, by creating a final sequence that overemphasizes these ideas of the filmmaker, the film self-consciously becomes almost a satire within a satire. It appears redundant as the film’s overall construction itself subtly makes the point quite clear. This erodes some of its finer edges.

Still, as a commentary about the innumerable possibilities that human psychology explores in social structure, the film is a masterclass of writing.


film notes: wise guys (1961) by claude chabrol

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