Chloé in the Afternoon 12/06/28 3:14
Frédéric (played by Bernard Verley) is a young lawyer in his third year of marriage to a college professor (Françoise Verley, no relation) who is now pregnant for the first time. Frédéric loves his wife and doesn't want to spend his life with anyone else. At the same time, he finds himself attracted to almost every woman he sees. He knows that he's restless and bored, knows that this will lead nowhere, yet continues to fantasize a lot about other women. Then he runs into an old friend, Chloé, played by popular model, singer, and hip 1960s French icon Zouzou. Chloé was the lover of one of Frédéric's best friends. She's something of a rebel and bohemian—smart, sexy, and engaging. They start to spend the afternoons together talking, mostly about Chloé's troubled life. Gradually it becomes evident that Chloé is in love with Frédéric, and it seems almost inevitable that they will have an affair, but Frédéric has difficulty making the leap.
The romantic point of view has been the dominant one in movies since, well, forever. Rohmer's films are a notable exception. In his stories, self-centeredness is arguably the most prominent human characteristic, but instead of adopting a judgmental attitude towards this, Rohmer accepts it as a normal part of life, and then explores ways in which this aspect is challenged and (sometimes) overcome. The daydreamer Frédéric seems more than a bit callow, and his wife rather chilly, yet this doesn't detract from the issues around relationships, fantasy, and fidelity that are raised—I would argue that it makes them seem more urgent, since Rohmer defies the comfort of conventional moralism. A viewer with life experience will not be surprised that a man with a pregnant wife would suddenly get a roving eye, and be tempted to have an affair. The only surprise might be that the subject is dealt with so frankly in a movie.
Zozou gives vibrant life to the character of Chloé. What is tempting about Chloé for Frédéric is not that she's sexually attractive, but that she's such an interesting and adventurous person. The impulsiveness and imbalance of her character has a vivifying effect on Frédéric's rather blasé inner life. She has her own motives for connecting with him, of course, but it's a mistake to see her as some kind of manipulative femme fatale. She is a fully-rounded human being, intriguing and complex. Admittedly, Rohmer puts his finger on the scale here: we don't see enough of Frédéric's wife Hélène to get a solid feeling for her character, so Chloé just seems much more interesting, but this is all part of the emotional web the film is weaving.
The style is typically spare and ascetic. Rohmer doesn't go for dramatic emphasis; he prefers a gentle approach in which the audience is allowed to make up its own mind about things. Néstor Almendros lends his soft and lovely palette to the photography. The quiet revelations of character in the film are both emotionally satisfying and just.
Chloé in the Afternoon is available on DVD.