Eric Rohmer – Le Beau mariage aka A Good Marriage [+Extras] (1982)


Vincent Canby @ The New York Times, August 27, 1982 wrote:

Like the major characters in most of Eric Rohmer’s comedies, Sabine (Béatrice Romand), the heroine of Mr. Rohmer’s new Le Beau Mariage, seems almost ordinary at first. She is pretty in a fresh but unspectacular way, articulate, and seemingly well adjusted to a kind of enlightened middle-class existence.

Part of the week Sabine works in an antique shop in Le Mans, where she lives with her younger sister and widowed mother, and the rest of the week she is in Paris, where she is studying—half-heartedly—for a degree in art history and carrying on a casual affair with a married painter named Simon.

One night as she and Simon are making love in his apartment, the telephone rings. The call is from his children, who are reporting, probably at their mother’s suggestion, on some recent accomplishment, which the father attends to with patient pleasure. Sabine gets out of bed, dresses quickly and, when she finally has Simon’s attention, announces that she is leaving, not for the night but for good.

By way of explanation she tells him she is getting married. To whom? Sabine says she doesn’t know. She hasn’t yet met the man, but she has no doubt that she soon will. Sabine is fed up with a life of freedom and understanding.

This is more or less the jumping-off place for Le Beau Mariage (translated into English as The Well-Made Marriage), one of Mr. Rohmer’s most charming and, in some ways, most compact comedies. The film reduces the relations between the sexes in twentieth-century Western civilization to the dimensions of Sabine’s single-minded pursuit of Mr. Right in Le Mans and Paris and back again. Sabine might at first appear to be ordinary, but it soon becomes apparent that her ordinariness disguises a woman of quite extraordinary emotional tenacity and moral conviction.

Sabine is alternately sweet and ferocious as she puts into effect her plan to convince Edmond (André Dussollier), a handsome, thirtyish Parisian lawyer, that the two of them are made for each other, or at least as made for each other as any two people ever are—Sabine is a pragmatist. Edmond is at first amused and then alarmed.

One of the consistent rewards of Mr. Rohmer’s films (My Night at Maud’s, Claire’s Knee, Perceval, among others) is that his characters never behave in ways made predictable by the second-rate fiction of others. Under any other circumstances Sabine would probably be intolerable in the way she dogs the trail of poor Edmond and refuses to take his lack of telephone calls as a sign of indifference, which, of course, it is.

Sabine is neither stupid nor arrogant. She is, rather, totally convinced of the utter reasonableness of what she’s about. It’s this reason, sometimes misapplied, that forever separates her—and other Rohmer characters—from the people who turn up in far more conventional romantic comedies.

Mr. Rohmer is one of the few filmmakers who can create convincingly intelligent characters, people whose thought processes are in some fashion demonstrated and not solely defined by the music they listen to or the books they say they have read. Unlike My Night at Maud’s and Claire’s Knee, there is little such name-dropping going on here. Sabine is certainly not an intellectual, but she is a remarkably self-aware, engaging woman with a no-nonsense approach to her life.

There is a revealing, very funny sequence in which Sabine runs into Claude, the first man she ever loved, a fellow who is now a teacher and happily married to another teacher, and goes back to his apartment with him. For a few moments it seems as if they might make love, for old times, but they immediately become embroiled in an argument about Sabine’s militantly proclaimed desire to get married and become a housewife.

The news astonishes Claude. What about her career? Does she want to become a hearth slave, ever dependent on her husband? What will happen to her need for self-expression? Sabine has answers for each of his questions and, moreover, makes them sound convincing.

The scope of Le Beau Mariage is limited, but everything within it is well-defined and magically, unexpectedly, illuminating. One has the feeling—rare in commercial films—of having met romantic characters who in no way deny the social and political complexities of the real world that exists just outside the view of the camera.

Miss Romand, who made her screen debut as the precocious teenager in Claire’s Knee, has grown into immensely appealing womanhood and is a comedienne of the first order. Prominent in the excellent supporting cast is Arielle Dombasle as Clarisse, Sabine’s best friend, a wise beauty who watches Sabine with a mixture of concern and amusement; Mr. Dussollier as the besieged Edmond; and Thamila Mezbah as Sabine’s mother, who is shocked when she hears her daughter talking about chastity in terms that she, the mother, considers a hundred years out of date.