American Fable is ambitious, maybe too much so sometimes, but there's an intense pleasure in the boldness of the film's style.
During lazy summer days and nights, the subjects of "La Collectionneuse" practice idleness and slow-motion mind games in a villa in the hills above St. Tropez on the French Riviera. Sensuality is always in the air, where it drifts aimlessly. This is the third of Eric Rohmer's Moral Tales, the first at feature length, the first filmed in color. It functions as a jumping-off point for the rest of his long career.
Rohmer (1920-2010) was older than his fellow directors in the French New Wave, and it's remarkable that he was already 47 when he made the film that enfolds so much of the indolence and narcissism of youth. Much of his prolific output fell into three groupings: Six Moral Tales, Comedies and Proverbs, and Tales of the Four Season. The moral tales studied tricky questions of romance, and there was little or no sex in them but much discussion about it. He found actors of undeniable physical appeal, and his camera caressed them as they spoke, and spoke, about the possibility of caressing each other.
"La Collectionneuse," which refers to a female collector (of men, in this case) centers on a young woman named Haydée who finds herself living at the villa with Adrien and Daniel, two friends about ten years older than she is. They watch her being picked up by a series of young guys who drive up to the villa and then speed off to the fashionable beachfront city, bringing her back after dawn. Both men claim they have no desire to sleep with her, and talk themselves into an undeclared contest to see which will be the first to succumb.
This assumes that Haydée can be had for the taking, which is by no means the case. The film is narrated by Adrien, and information is filtered through his unreliable opinions of Haydée and Daniel and his high opinion of himself. There is no scene at which he isn't present, but since he can't control what is said, we are invited to arrive at our own conclusions. Rohmer had a deliberate narrative style that postponed or sidestepped events that a conventional director would have supplied right on schedule. The Moral Tales demonstrated that his characters were not fated to do obvious things, and reserved the option of thinking about the meaning of their actions. They were not invariably moral, nor was their alleged morality necessarily one we would agree with.