The Green Ray (1986): Conversations, Alienation and Love


Adrian here:

What do I think about conversations? Well, perhaps, from my own experience, they comprise a social act driven by two or more people who are willing to share themselves to each other, an act of engagement. Eric Rohmer's films are full of conversations. They comprise a large section of the narrative, often they contain the most important facts about the characters. Most often, these conversations propel the narrative of the films.

The Green Ray (1986), my second Rohmer film, has many conversations. If there is one thing to describe these conversations: awkward and often isolating. Compared with conversations at My Nights at Maud's (1969) which are engaging and percussive between the people, conversations in The Green Ray have a tendency to distance the main character, Delphine, from the rest of the group. Rohmer has achieved this subtly by placing Delphine in slightly awkward positions.

Isolation through Frames

Rohmer uses cinematic techniques and staging techniques to isolate the character Delphine. From my observation of the film, he uses two techniques: awkward positioning of the character, and cut-through technique juxtaposing Delphine with other characters for comparative purposes.

Conversations, like the one above, always put Delphine in an awkward position, often between two people who challenge her ideals. These conversations singled out Delphine as the only vegetarian in the group. She was place intuitively centered in the two frames, emphasizing her obscurity and difference among the others.

Another 'isolation technique' that Rohmer used was by placing Delphine detached from the rest of the group. As you can see above, the first two stills shows the connectedness of the characters, while in the last frame, Delphine character seems to be alienated even if she was with a child. She seemed to be detached from the group, which leaves us to Delphine running away from these set of friends at Cherbourg.

Dualism of Nature

The film also establishes a unique connection with nature and the phenomenon surrounding it like superstitions, the Zodiac, and other. It either compliments our main character's temper or alienates her.

Delphine admires the natural beauty of her surroundings, as implied in the frame above. It strikes me to think that Rohmer is sensitive enough to place Delphine where she is most at home to: among the currant bushes, being a vegetarian herself. On the other hand, Rohmer uses the same element to identify with Delphine's loneliness. This duality reverberates throughout the film. Even the happiest of places, Delphine cannot find her mind at peace.

In Delphine's journey alone in her two vacation destinations, she encounters a deep disconnection with herself. As implied in these two occasions, she seemed to find these places distant from herself. She despise being in Paris for a vacation, so she ended up on a beach at Biarritz where she met a Swedish girl who is exactly her, a single traveler. She strikes up a good conversation, but it turns out that the Swedish girl hates commitment as oppose to Delphine who treasures a deep connection with her loved one. They ended up at opposite boats, and when they met two guys who apparently into foursomes, Delphine withdraws. This withdrawal brought her to the man that will fulfill her thirst for a romance and belongingness.

With nature also functioning as chance, we are brought to elements of superstitions, being it as the penultimate central dogma of the whole theme. Rohmer harbors the great central order of things by introducing found objects and 'found stories' (as with The Green Ray story of the ladies by the bridge) and connecting them within the internal story world of Delphine.

Such elements are normally 'off' to conventional cinema. They are even 'unnecessary' to some films with a similar plot as this one. But these 'found' elements are what binds the film. As with the first card, a Queen of Spade, it foreshadows Delphine's unsatisfactory vacation trips, while the second card, a Jack of Hearts, predicts the arrival of a man in her life.
As with the green ray, the foreshadowing happens when Delphine eavesdrop on the conversations of a group of old women by the bridge. Delphine was transfixed by the magical element of the story implied by her smile. She admits that she do not believe in the Zodiac but believes in her own superstitions.

The green ray is believed to act as a lens of emotions for two people who has seen it. When two people saw it together, they will, in turn, see each other's feelings.

Collecting Everything

Rohmer has made this film for his audience especially for those who have lost their hope for love. Rohmer is aware of these moments. He used cinematic techniques to illustrate the feelings of his characters by placing them in environments that would highlight these emotional tonalities. It is as if with the subjective framing of the green ray in the last scene Rohmer alludes to the alienation of the modern times. For everyone who has lost it, Rohmer conjures a green ray to let those people experience it at first hand in cinema. But it only remains there as an illusion of hope. And upon exiting the cinema, one asks: when can I see a green ray myself?