The hedonist coed (Haydée Politoff) is first seen by the beachfront, the camera abstracts her in cubist analysis (midriff, shoulders, back of knees, neck); her defiant muteness is contrasted with the other sides of the triangle, the antiques dealer (Patrick Bauchau) and the avant-garde artist (Daniel Pommereulle), both given to prolix self-questioning. Eric Rohmer's canvas is the vacationing intellect, placing Bauchau face to face with the Mediterranean in an attempt to "take inactivity to a level never reached." Rousseau and Dalí come his way all the same, although the main challenge remains Politoff, the comely sexual collector sharing a St. Tropez villa with him and Pommereulle. The lout she came with is exiled but she stays for the potential conquests, her provocative indolence puts a dent on Bauchau's armor of distanced irony -- his curiosity inflamed under a coolly composed exterior, he proceeds in a succession of advances and retreats, working out a hypothesis. Rohmer's Moral Tales are structured by the gulf between self-image and reality, but the director understands the dangers of isolating the intellect from the rest of the world: Pommereulle's latest work is a paint can encrusted with blades, a guest contemplates it intently ("Thought surrounded (ouch!) by razors. I'm bleeding"). Rohmer and Nestor Almendros instead showcase the full sensuousness of the courtly style, countless different tones of sunlight and a virtuoso sound design of birds, crickets, the offscreen whoosh of a plane and, above all, the teasing timbre of desire and uncertainty rising out of a low-key wavelength. An ancient Chinese vase figures as a reminder of Rohmer's early study (with Chabrol) of Hitchcock's sundry objects, the gamine's meeting with an American client (Eugene Archer) compresses Contempt in order to reveal Bauchau's "Machiavellian side." A translucent comedy of procrastination, exquisitely wrought as a progression of sifting seductions that bellies a cutting punchline, the moral victory that might be Pyrrhic. With Alain Jouffroy, Mijanou Bardot, and Annik Morice.
--- Fernando F. Croce