Filmmaker Eric Rohmer Dies At 89

Filmmaker Eric Rohmer died today in Paris at the age of 89, according to his production company. Though he was often associated with the French New Wave, Rohmer was older than Francois Truffaut and Jean-Luc Godard. His films seemed to be more influenced by such older French filmmakers as Renoir and Bresson. Yet by focusing each of his "moral tales" (including Claire's Knee, My Night at Maud's and Chloe in the Afternoon) on the interior moral dilemma of his central character, he made his movies more like literature. And that was revolutionary in its own way.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

A central figure in the French New Wave has died. The film director and critic Eric Rohmer died in Paris today. Some of his best known films are "My Night at Maud's" and "Claire's Knee." As our critic Bob Mondello explains, Rohmer was an odd fit for the New Wave.

BOB MONDELLO: Most films offer audiences an escape from reality. Eric Rohmer's films urged audiences to plunge right in. His pictures are filled with the everyday: characters who have long, searching conversations, and in whose lives nothing much appears to be happening.

He made his name with a series of films grouped together as "Six Moral Tales," all of which dealt with a similar theme: A young man about to commit to one woman meets another who makes him reconsider, as Jean-Louis Trintignant did in "My Night at Maud's."

(Soundbite of movie, "My Night at Maud's")

Mr. JEAN-LOUIS TRINTIGNANT (Actor): (As Jean-Louis) (French spoken).

Ms. MARIE-CHRISTINE BARRAULT (Actor): (As Francoise) (French spoken).

MONDELLO: The brief dalliance in these movies never quite takes the man will return to the woman he'd initially settled on, but it's that moment of indecision that captivated Rohmer. It gives the character pause. And in that pause, as his whole life seems to be coming apart, he takes stock.

Rohmer once described his "Moral Tales" as stories which deal less with what people do than with what is going on in their minds while they are doing it. My work, he said, is closer to the novel than to other forms of entertainment, like the theater.

Eric Rohmer was born Jean-Marie Scherer and didn't adopt the name under which he made his films until he was in his late 20s, teaching literature and reporting for a Paris newspaper. His professional moniker was a combination of two that he liked: The first name of actor-director Erich von Stroheim and the last name of novelist Sax Rohmer, who wrote the Fu Manchu stories. As you'll gather from that, Eric Rohmer devoured all sorts of storytelling, spending a lot of time at the Cinematheque Francaise, watching movies and developing new film theories with such future new wavers as Francois Truffaut and Jean-Luc Godard.

The three of them went on to work for the influential magazine Cahiers du Cinema, hoping to popularize their new wave's low budget, realistic, director-driven films. Rohmer, though, was a decade older than most of the young Turks he was associating with, and his films seemed to be influenced by French filmmakers who had preceded even him.

Plot was never at the heart of any of his films, talk was: witty, highbrow chatter from characters who are sophisticated, articulate and often determinedly trivial, which of course, earned him his share of detractors. Gene Hackman had a line in an American action picture in which he snorted that he'd once watched a Rohmer film, and it was kind of like watching paint dry. Rohmer said he understood that and claimed to be surprised when his films became modest box office hits, as they almost always did.

Besides the "Six Moral Tales" he made early on, he made several other film cycles: "Comedies and Proverbs," which explored notions of deception; "Tales of the Four Seasons," which looked at loners; and his most recent film, "The Romance of Astrea and Celadon," which he completed just three years ago when he was 86.

Eric Rohmer, who began his career championing a revolt against the orthodoxies of his time, ended up dedicating his life behind the camera to making movies more like literature, and that was revolutionary in its own way.

I'm Bob Mondello.

(Soundbite of music)

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