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Film / Six Moral Tales

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When it is told, this story seems very banal. I hope I shall enrich it with a few nuances, because it's time for nuances, don't you think?
Éric Rohmer, at the end of his initial story outline for The Bakery Girl of Monceau.

Six Moral Tales (French: Six contes moraux) is a Thematic Series of films (a 20-minute short film, a 50-minute featurette, and four feature length films) written and directed by French director Éric Rohmer that became his Breakthrough Hits in the world of cinema.

Originally conceived as a collection of short stories written around 1950, Rohmer decided to group them all together once he realized that all the stories shared the same basic structure: a man is on the verge of committing to a relationship with a woman, only to be tempted by another, more intriguing woman.

Made by Les Films du Losange, the production company started by Rohmer and fellow French New Wave filmmaker Barbet Schroeder (who also acted as producer), the films started out as No Budget, spartan affairs, featuring a largely Amateur Cast. As Rohmer's acclaim grew, he managed to attract big-name stars and shifted to filming in picturesque locations, but the films retained a certain DIY ethic, and established Rohmer's unique style of Speech-centric Slice of Life Dramedy .

The tales are:

  • #1: The Bakery Girl of Monceau (La Boulangère de Monceau), 1962. Short film about a young law student whose pursuit of a mysterious woman he always sees out walking is derailed when he strikes up a flirtation with another woman who works at a local bakery.
  • #2: Suzanne's Career (La Carrière de Suzanne), 1963. Featurette about a young pharmacy student and his interactions with the seemingly naïve latest conquest of his womanizing friend.
  • #3: My Night at Maud's (Ma nuit chez Maud), 1969. Numbered third, but actually filmed fourth. A devoutly Catholic engineer spends Christmas night with a boyhood pal at the apartment of a sexy divorcee, only to become an object of her desire.
  • #4: La Collectionneuse (Sometimes called The Collector in English), 1967. An art dealer vacations in the Riviera at a friend’s house, but keeps crossing paths with another guest, a sexually adventurous young woman.
  • #5: Claire's Knee (Le Genou de Claire), 1970. A career diplomat spends the summer before his wedding in his hometown in the French Alps, but finds himself strangely infatuated with a spirited teenager and her beautiful sister (or, more accurately, the sister’s knee).
  • #6: Chloe in the Afternoon (L’Amour l’apres-midi, sometimes called Love in the Afternoon in English), 1972. A businessman with a devoted wife and young child feels a bit restless with marriage, then has his world shaken up when the bold ex-girlfriend of an old acquaintance re-enters his life.

Since Rohmer was a film critic and scholar, he was well-aware of the common Love Tropes in movies, and in many ways used this series to deconstruct and subvert them.

Tropes common to all six Moral Tales include:

  • All Men Are Perverts: The male protagonists all present themselves as gentlemen who are only looking for true love, often in contrast to their Casanova Wannabe friends, but they're secretly obsessed with women, and don't quite know how to react when a woman throws herself at them.
  • Author Avatar: It's usually agreed that the male protagonists are based on Rohmer himself, with The Bakery Girl of Monceau being semi-autobiographical.
  • Betty and Veronica: Frequently used. Chloe in the Afternoon is a straight example, but other films play with the dynamic, blurring the lines of which woman fits which archetype.
  • Call-Back: The women in the daydream scene in Chloe in the Afternoon are the main actresses from the previous three films—-Haydée Politoff (La Collectionneuse), Françoise Fabian and Marie-Christine Barrault (My Night at Maud's), Laurence de Monaghan and Béatrice Romand (Claire's Knee). Gérard Falconetti (Gilles in Claire's Knee) also appears, once again as Monaghan's boyfriend.
  • Can't Have Sex, Ever: I Could Have Gotten Laid, But... could be the title for all six films. Most of the protagonists reject an opportunity for intimacy, ostensibly because of their moral code, but really due to other personality quirks.
  • Casanova Wannabe: The best friend of the protagonist in several of the films.
  • Ethical Slut: Several female characters who really get around but also have a strong sense of propriety in their relationships.
  • Love Triangle: The main thread in all six films, but Played With in different ways, and sometimes even turning into a Love Dodecahedron.
  • Male Gaze: Many loving shots of the women, most memorably the slow upward pan of Haydée Politoff in a bikini at the beginning of La Collectionneuse and the close-up of Zouzou's naked rear end in Chloe in the Afternoon.
  • Manic Pixie Dream Girl: Chloe (Chloe in the Afternoon) most obviously, but Suzanne (Suzanne's Career), Haydée (La Collectionneuse) and Laura (Claire's Knee) also count, with Maud (My Night at Maud's) and Aurora (Claire's Knee) representing a more sophisticated, mature variation of the type.
  • No Name Given: The male protagonists of The Bakery Girl of Monceau and My Night at Maud’s are never named.
  • Novelization: In 1974 Rohmer published Six Moral Tales as a short story collection, updating the stories so they jibe better with the film versions.
  • The Obstructive Love Interest: How the protagonist eventually sees the second woman by the end of the story, though that might not a reliable opinion.
  • Reality Has No Soundtrack: The only music outside the credits of these films is diegetic.
  • Really Gets Around: The woman who becomes the third side of the triangle usually behaves like this.
  • Romantic Comedy: All six films roughly fall into this genre, but avoid the usual formulas and cliches.
  • Silent Credits: All the films end with a quick, silent FIN card.
  • Stalker with a Crush: The protagonist pursuing Sylvie in The Bakery Girl of Monceau, the protagonist pursuing Françoise in My Night at Maud's and Chloe in Chloe/Love in the Afternoon all might count as this.
  • Unreliable Narrator: According to Rohmer, these stories are all from the point of view of the protagonist many years later, recounting the events, and their version of what happened tends to be a bit self-serving.