A study in concentric obsessions, Richard Misek’s “Rohmer in Paris,” composed almost exclusively of edited-together clips from Eric Rohmer’s films linked by voiceover, presents itself as both an analysis of the New Wave filmmaker’s oeuvre and a wry confession of Misek’s compulsive fascination with it. At a time when usage fees reduce most movie excerpts to frustratingly short snippets or shots from trailers, this cornucopia of optimally chosen primary sources, with its deft juxtapositions and leisurely extended scenes, is a guilty pleasure in itself. Definitely niche material, this singular 67-minute stroll through Rohmer’s Paris reps prime fest fare.
Misek describes cinephilia — whose invention, or at least whose codification, he ascribes to the Nouvelle Vague — as an obsession waiting to be triggered. What triggered Misek’s was his belated discovery that he himself had appeared in Rohmer’s “Rendezvous in Paris” (1995), when he crossed the camera’s path in Montmartre 14 years earlier. He then resolved to see all Rohmer’s films, watching them over and over, a barrage of opening-credit titles mimicking his repeated viewings.
Misek sees Rohmer’s oeuvre as inseparable from Paris and, as the documentary’s title indicates, only films centered there are included, so that even when characters leave the city, it remains the lodestone of their identities. Misek characterizes Rohmer’s (or perhaps his own) approach as psychogeometric, borrowing Debord’s term referring to the effects of geographical environment on the individuals’ emotions and behavior.
Following various Rohmer characters as they amble, stride or wander through Paris, Misek traces a complex matrix of paths and intersections. He sometimes merely indicates these different paths in short clips from different films, and sometimes lets them play out, in all their twists and turns, in long excerpts from single works; the alternating of short and long yields satisfying rhythms and mini-catharses within each section of the docu. He maps the characters’ glances as they check out romantic possibilities along sidewalks, through cafe windows, and in trains, subways or buses. In chosen clips, characters comically or tragically ignore these glances, or else flirtatiously or earnestly return them.
Increasingly, these critical interpretations of Rohmer’s cinematic psyche, compelling as they are, become entangled with Misek’s own personal gestalt. On the occasion of Rohmer’s death in 2010, Misek laments that his idol will never see his film, that his cinematic “glance” will never be reciprocated. He speaks of watching, collecting and cataloging all the shots of Paris that Rohmer ever filmed, treating viewers to montages of hotels, characters entering doorways and leaving doorways, entering the Metro and leaving the Metro; the number of clips in each montage decreases while the tempo increases until the narration overtakes the imagery, stuck behind in earlier categories.
Indeed, in bleakly comic mode, the clips, now freed from critical discourse, assume a demented life of their own as Misek, in a fever dream of cinephilic exaggeration (bound to disturb his target audience of film buffs), rhapsodizes about cutting and pasting fragments of Rohmer’s films until he dies.