Friday 29 December 2017

Tracking down Jacques Rozier - a belated holiday viewing of Du côté d’Ourouët (France, 1969-73).

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)
The great man Brian Davies gave a lecture about the film in which he posited the idea that the film represented the last true New Wave film. By the time it came out the key figures with the exception of Jean-Luc Godard had moved into more classical modes, begun making solid commercial movies. (We didn’t know then, because we had seen nothing of his work, that Eric Rohmer would make ‘French New Wave’ movies for most of the rest of his career. Rohmer got older but his comedies and proverbs remained resolutely young and over and over he returned to films about, well, youth, fun, serious meaning, aching romance, black and white, unknown actors, gorgeous young women, a nod to a deep love for the cinema itself. The black and white was abandoned after My Night at Maud’s.)

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 
The town the girls land in, after a trip across a stretch of water and after lugging their suitcases up a sand dune/shortcut, is deserted. It’s also starting to get cold. The girls then spend a lot of time giggling and laughing between themselves. They don’t discuss much, certainly no politics, and we rarely see them do the routine things like shopping. They take to eating in a café below their house, seeming to be the only customers, though much of the desertedness may be a function of the budget not extending to paying extras. There are, at various moments, boat trips and a night time excursion to catch eels but you get the impression that the locals in these scenes were probably unaware a real movie was being made.

"Gilbert slowly insinuates himself" Du côté d’Ourouët 
In the opening scene, Joëlle has had to deal with the advances of her young boss Gilbert (Bernard Menez) something she manages to easily resist. Gilbert is close to being a creep. Then about five days into the vacation, Gilbert shows up and asks if he can pitch his tent in the garden of the house. They agree and Gilbert slowly insinuates himself into each somewhat dull day’s routine. The girls still snigger and laugh a lot and Gilbert proves somewhat bewildered and takes to drinking a lot of white wine. Still they dance with him on the sand and the fun they poke is not full of ill-feeling.

Du côté d’Ourouët 
The course of the film is charted by a series of slides with the date. Somewhere after three quarters of an hour or so you hope this holiday is only going to last a fortnight. The weather is getting colder, Gilbert is becoming a pain in the arse, they talk of lighting fires to keep warm. Then they come across a lone yachtsman, Patrick (Patrick Verde) in a very small boat who offers to take the girls out for a sail.  They show up the next day and with documentary exactitude we see the boat launched and two of the girls clamber aboard. The yachtsman deems the sea too rough to take all three. Gilbert wanders off and Caroline takes off her top and sunbathes (no frontal shots). They return and the yachtsman offers to take Caroline out next day.

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.

I have a copy of Les naufragés de l'île de la Tortue  and have just ordered an English-subtitled copy of Maine-Ocean  from Amazon France. Rozier made two more features Fifi Martingale (2001) and Le Bleu Perroquet (2007). More to come…

Jacques Rozier (2017)


  1. Du côté d’Ourouët was notable as being a film made and shown in 16mm. When I saw it in (sigh) La Rue Champollion the audience muttered darkly when the copy came on with scratches and dirt. I had the impression that this led to the experiment being abandoned though reductions of professional 35mm. films were shown regularly at Le Champo.There was also an 8mm. feature with name stars which seems to have vanished from their credits.

  2. I disagree completely! Adieu Philippine is 'historically interesting' as a new wave film, but I thought Du Cote d'Orouet the real masterpiece in the box set. Some might find the girls larking about irritating, but apart from that I can't see why you didn't 'get' it. Fantastically acted, it is one of those films where nothing much happens but EVERYTHING is happening under the surface. I'd put it up there with Rohmer and Rivette from the same period. HF


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