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TCM Imports - October 2018
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Summer (aka The Green Ray)

Eric Rohmer's Summer (1986) was released in France under its original title Le rayon vert or The Green Ray. That title refers to the last ray of the setting sun, usually invisible except in certain weather conditions. It's also the title of an 1882 novel by Jules Verne, which is referenced in the film and functions as a symbol for self-discovery for Delphine (Marie Riviere), its heroine. Delphine is a young, lonely Parisian secretary recovering from a breakup. When plans for a summer vacation with friends fall through, she winds up spending the summer on her own in a friend's apartment in Biarritz, where she searches for meaning in her life as well as a soulmate.

Rohmer hatched the idea for his film in 1983, when he jotted down notes inspired by the Basque coastline where he vacationed every summer. According to his biographers, he thought about a young woman in all that beauty suffering from acute loneliness and about "his own lonely youth, seeking a sister-soul that his great timidity made inaccessible for him."

Rohmer mapped out his scenes but had his cast, most of whom were nonprofessional, improvise almost the entire film. (Riviere drew a writing credit as well.) "It was all in my head," Rohmer recalled. "There was nothing written. Solitude is the drama of modern life. I think the feeling of loneliness is more frequent and less easy to deal with than ever before. That's what I wanted to show. And I wanted the actors to find their own words."

"Before each take," said Riviere, "[Rohmer] would talk to us again about the essential points. For any given scene, we did two or three takes maximum."

Rohmer also recalled, "The scene with the boy in Biarritz is totally improvised because he didn't know what we wanted from him. I met him three minutes before we started filming, because the boy who should have shown up wasn't there. I put him beside the 'Swedish girl,' and told him, 'Sit at this table and try to chat up these two girls.' They didn't know what was going to happen."

Rohmer shot in sequence and on location in Biarritz with a crew of three. He used 16mm film (blown up for release in 35mm) because it was more portable and less conspicuous. His budget was about $615,000, and almost half of it went to a single special-effects shot at the film's climax. He had sent a crew to the Canary Islands to shoot the "real" green ray, but it needed enhancement with optical effects.

The movie made its premiere on French cable television as a way of recouping much of its cost through cultural subsidies, and then went on to win the Golden Lion award at the Venice Film Festival. Afterwards, it was released theatrically in France, where it was a significant hit, and in the United States, where it was received with rave reviews. ("Exquisite," said The New York Times.) It is considered one of Rohmer's most distinctive pictures.

SOURCES:

Leslie George, "Restless Recluse of 'Summer,'" W Magazine, October 1986
Fiona Handyside, ed. Eric Rohmer Interviews
Antoine de Baecque and Noel Herpe, Eric Rohmer: A Biography

By Jeremy Arnold

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