Every time I revisit the cinema of Andre Techine I become more convinced that he is the heir to Eric Rohmer’s “Morality” films. Techine continues where Rohmer left off when he departed filmic realism in favor of fantasy (1978’s remarkable and underrated Perceval). Like Rohmer, Techine is concerned with the issues of romance in youth, the fundamental questions of right and wrong along with the more primal responses generated by such innocent conflicts. In films as formally mannered as the works of James Ivory, Techine has brought his audience portrait after portrait of young love, corrupted innocence, and a sense of purpose perverted. Of all the films Techine has made, it is in his earliest work that these parallels are at their most evident, and that his progress as a filmmaker is at it’s most essential.
Rendez-Vous (1985) is both Techine’s testament to youthful innocence and to the art of performance. Nina (Juliette Binoche) is a struggling actress who has migrated from the French countryside to Paris in search of a fruitful career. Penniless, Nina exploits a pair of flat mates to put a roof over her head. Nina is a prude at first, and refuses to sleep with either man. Paulot (Wadeck Stanczak) becomes drawn to her, a sort of casual crush. His desires match hers at the beginning of the film, each idolizing a naively romantic notion of true love. Shortly, Nina has obtained a walk on part in a low rent theater production. This is where her corruption begins as producers, directors, and cast-mates express their expectancy of sexual favors in return for career-oriented aid. Paulot remains unchanged, making every feeble attempt to sway Nina into caring about him.
Quentin (Lambert Wilson), Paulot’s flat mate, works in a live sex show, and was once an esteemed actor who appeared in an ill fated theater production of Romeo & Juliette. He too attends one of Nina’s shows, and afterwards escorts her to his own show. Shortly there after, Quentin seduces Nina. The following morning, there is a fight between the roommates, from which Quentin storms off only to be struck dead by a passing car. This catastrophic event shatters what innocence Nina had left, and she will spend most of the remainder of the film exploiting her sexuality.
Nina is the younger version of Chloe (Zou Zou) that we only hear about in Rohmer’s Love In The Afternoon (1972). Both women have become undone through their misplaced love and naïve understandings of adult affairs. They believe, at the climax of both films, that redemption lies in the arms of a former lover. Chloe attempts to seduce the married Frederic (Bernard Verley) who has managed to secure his youthful innocence in a happy marriage. Likewise, Nina returns to her former flame Paulot and seduces him. Where Frederic rejects Chloe, Paulot accepts Nina. Perhaps because of his youth, Paulot is unable to comprehend the ramifications of his decision as Frederic had. Nina’s seduction of Paulot only corrupts him as Quentin had corrupted her.
Rohmer’s cinema is concerned with the middle aged and their neurotic navigations of romance and sexuality just as Techine expresses the same interests though in characters in their early twenties. Though the routes are different, the characters in both films end in the same place. Despite the fact that Frederic rejected Chloe, his understanding of the ramifications to which Paulot had been ignorant work to corrupt him in the same way. In essence, the tragedy is the same, as is the moral lesson of each film.
Even visually, the compositions in Rendez-Vous evoke the same sense of space and despair as Rohmer’s early films. But here they depart in their similarities. Techine, like every filmmaker of his generation, has been heavily influenced by the essay films of Jean-Luc Godard. Techine implements this influence with a natural fluidity, structuring an analysis of performance in film around Nina’s preparations to appear in a revival production of Romeo & Juliette, with the same director (Scrutzler as played by Jean-Louis Tritignant) who worked on Quentin’s production. Through out the third act of Rendez-Vous, Nina and Scrutzler debate and discuss that which makes an actress great. Techine fully intends his audience to understand that it is actress Binoche playing actress Nina who is discussing her performance as Shakespeare’s Juliette. Techine is working with the same mechanisms that Godard employed in Contempt when he cast Fritz Lang. This self-awareness and Techine’s willingness to address it shows a marked difference between himself and Rohmer. Hence, Techine is doing more than adopting Rohmer’s style; he is advancing it by pushing it into a modern context of film construction and interpretation.
The styles and mechanisms I have outlined above are only brief hallmarks in the early cinema of Andre Techine. Like all directors worth writing about, he has advanced stylistically and even once or twice reinvented himself.