The final installment of Eric Rohmer’s Six Moral Tales, Chloe in the Afternoon is a beautiful character study about what it is to love one woman and yet be in love with all women. Frédéric (Verley), a very levelheaded Parisian businessman with a wife and two kids, one day encounters a woman, Chloé, who he used to know years ago. Before long, they’re meeting every afternoon, over drinks or whatever, chatting, divulging intimate details about themselves. Frédéric first thinks of Chloé as an oddball, a neurotic, and brushes her off casually. But when she begins to treat him indifferently, he gets riled up and all the more drawn to her. And you can’t necessarily blame the guy: Chloé’s portrayed as a very exciting, sensual woman who also happens to be an unpredictable head-case; she hops from bed to bed, attaches herself to men who never love her and, before long, moves on. She also can’t keep a job down. Chloé’s the kind of brash, slightly dangerous woman that all men, at some time or another, have fallen for.
Eventually, Frédéric finds himself at the brink at which he must face his lust for Chloé head-on. Contrary to stereotype, his wife, Hélène (Françoise Verley), isn’t some insufferable ball-and-chain but an alluring, free-minded woman: beautiful, smart and a devoted mother. And, to be fair, Frédéric’s no slouch either: he’s a sensitive guy, devoted to his wife but also honest about how Chloé makes him feel. Indeed, he starts out the movie confessing that marriage has made him feel cut off from all the women he sees all around him. He’s attracted to all of them, yet his genuine loyalty to his wife offsets those more primal yearnings. It’s a testament to the honesty with which Rohmer depicts Frédéric’s marriage that his and Hélène’s final scene is such a knockout.
As opposed to Kubrick’s inane Eyes Wide Shut, which crossed similar thematic ground but turned its protagonist’s honest desires into the stuff of psycho-dramatic tripe, Rohmer steers the humanist road to far more poignant effect. Rohmer never resorts to stereotypes: These characters are all vivid, believable, complex creations in whom we see ourselves. Chloé is a superb example of how culturally bound stories, when told simply and delicately, can find universal resonance. As an added bonus, it also offers an intriguing peek into Parisian middle-class life in the early 70s.
Directed by: Eric Rohmer
Written by: Eric Rohmer
Cast: Bernard Verley, Zouzou, Françoise Verley, Daniel Ceccaldi