It’s exciting to see Shyamalan on such confident footing once more, all these years later.
Paris is not all crowded together into a cozy warren of colorful streets, nestled on the banks of the Seine. And Parisians are not all colorful intellectuals, bohemians, artists and tradesmen, so authentic they make you feel like a stage American. France, in fact, is not all like France. Parts of it are glossy new architectural enclaves where yuppies meet to chirp and preen. That is the France of Eric Rohmer’s new film, “Boyfriends and Girlfriends.” The movie takes place in a modern suburb of Paris, so close you can sometimes see the Eiffel Tower in the distance, so far away it is almost another country. This is a clean, well-lighted environment, in which all of the fixtures of a Paris neighborhood have been picked up, shaken well, dusted, sterilized, painted and set down again. The sidewalk cafes, for example, have just the right little porcelain sugar bowls and round white chairs. All they lack is a sidewalk.
In this environment, Rohmer places several young professionals who range in age from, say, 24 to 32. One woman works in a social agency. Another works in a travel bureau. The men have more abstract jobs that require them to venture into Paris itself. But their true home is here in this brand new environment that seems designed to set off their new slacks and sweaters without throwing too much light on their opinions.
“Boyfriends and Girlfriends” is one of a series of “proverbs” that Rohmer has been working through lately, after his earlier series of six “moral tales” such as “My Night at Maud’s” and “Claire’s Knee.” The moral tales presented their characters with actual and tricky moral dilemmas (for example, should one act selfishly on a desire to touch Claire’s knee if that indulgence would interfere with Clair’s otherwise happily innocent existence?). The proverbs, on the other hand, are skimpier affairs, lightweight little whimsies designed to illustrate some sort of everyday truth in an ironic way.
The proverb that inspired “Boyfriends and Girlfriends” is “The friends of my friends are my friends” (which, in French, was the original title of the movie, and, in English, would make a more intriguing one than “Boyfriends and Girlfriends”).