In 1962 Jacques Rozier released his first feature Adieu Philippine. When we finally got to see it in 1965 or so, courtesy of the then nascent film library being established at the French Embassy in Canberra by the then (first?) Cultural Counsellor Henri Souillac, it seemed a revelation, the epitome of all that the French New Wave stood for – youth, fun, serious meaning, aching romance, French politics, black and white, unknown actors, gorgeous young women, a nod to a deep love for the cinema itself. Adieu Philippine was screened by MUFS, or at least the MUFS Committee insiders who commandeered projectors from somewhere or other, over and over again.
|Jacques Rozier (c.1962)|
Davies thought that Adieu Philippine was a sort of culmination of two strands of the French New Wave, the youthful natural open air comedy and the more rigorous enquiry embodied by the films of Jean Rouch which interrogated both the subject and the process of film-making itself. It was almost intuitive to have worked it out because we knew nothing then of the Rouch experiments in fictionalizing his African narratives. All of Rouch we knew were the remarkable Chronicle of a Summer, a documentary which created its own fictional moments and the director’s short, long-take, documentary infused, contribution to the film à sketches, Paris Vu Par…. Adieu Phillipine remained a coterie taste over decades.
It was many years between those screenings in Melbourne and its re-appearance as one of Barrett Hodsdon’s selections in his monumental series of screenings at the WEA Film Group in the first decade of the 21st century devoted to the history of the French cinema and using the often battered 16mm prints still circulating as part of the French Embassy film library. For Rozier’s film, all this notwithstanding, the old magic remained. Its reputation was intact, even enhanced. For me it’s the greatest of all the French New Wave films, but it’s still surprising to learn who among the deep cinephile community hasn’t seen it. Rozier is almost a footnote, an oddity.
For most of us it remained basically a one shot. Nobody here seemed to have seen the other dramatic features that Jacques Rozier made. Certainly he never made the leap even to festival screenings or further additions to the French Embassy library.
Rozier shot Adieu Philippine in 1960 and then managed to lose the recordings of the soundtrack. It took another two years to reconstruct it and the film came out in 1962. It was a major critical success but a box-office disappointment. Rozier then fell out with his producer Georges de Beauregard and struggled to get another project up. It was not until 1969 that two young TV producers Yves Jaigu and Yves Laumet got him some money to make a small budget 16mm movie. The film didn’t come out until 1973. This was Du côté d’Ourouët. In it Rozier repeats his frequent trope of sending his characters to the beach for a holiday. (It happens in Adieu Philippine and in his earlier short Blue Jeans.) This time its three young women Kareen (Francoise Guégan), Caroline (Caroline Cartier) and Joëlle (Danielle Croisy) who take off for the Atlantic Coast on the first of September. Note the date. France has taken August off but now returned to work.
|Joelle, Kareen, Caroline, Du côté d’Ourouët|
|"Gilbert slowly insinuates himself" Du côté d’Ourouët|
|Du côté d’Ourouët|
While he does, the two girls and Gilbert go off for a fishing trip and as dusk arrives they get back home holding a still live huge fish. Fortunately we were spared this sequence though I wouldn’t mind betting it was shot. Gilbert offers to cook the fish and much of the next half hour is devoted to this process including the preparation of potatoes and a sauce. Then the girls aren’t hungry and Caroline hasn’t re-appeared. Then she does and they all go to bed. Gilbert has drunk several bottles of wine during the course of this sequence which takes us to about the two-hour mark.
…so there’s more. Patrick is keen on Caroline and she agrees to spend a day with him but later comes home in a rage and says she’s going home. Exactly what transpired we don’t know. She storms off. The other two girls are enveloped in some sort of chagrin, Gilbert gets morose because Joelle isn’t interested in him. They pack up and return ‘early’ to Paris.
In a coda, Gilbert is lunching with a new female staff member and Joelle is laughing at him from another table. The film ends quietly after 2 hours and 31 minutes. My goodness how the mighty fell….
The film tumbled into deserved obscurity after being released in 1973. It was re-released, blown up to 35mm, in 1996 and re-released again in a Jacques Rozier Box Set on DVD containing two short films Rentrée des classes and Blue jeans plus Adieu Philippine, Du côté d'Orouët and a later film Les naufragés de l'île de la Tortue. The Box Set is still on offer at Amazon France.
Rozier’s next feature Maine Ocean was made in 1986. In a piece about Rozier online at Film Comment Giovanni Marchini Camia noted a screening in New York and said, inter alia, “Widely regarded as Rozier’s best work, it was one of the 30 films the late German critic Frieda Grafe listed among her favorites in Steadycam magazine. The Arsenal cinematheque in Berlin is currently screening all 30 titles, and the turnout for Maine-Océan was impressive (all the more so considering it was shown at 9pm on a Friday), testifying to the importance of a director whose entire oeuvre remains virtually unavailable outside of France.”