What to Drink While Watching “La Carrière de Suzanne”

suzannes-career

Suzanne is dumpy and frumpy. Therefore she is the perfect character for this film, made in 1963 by the great Eric Rohmer. Why is she perfect? Because it intrigues the viewer what Guillaume and Bertrand see in her. The former becomes her official boyfriend, making the latter jealous, even though he pretends not to be. Both take advantage of her apparent gormlessness but in the end she gets her revenge by finding true love elsewhere and leaving Guillaume and Bertrand high and dry.

 

The film is just 50 minutes long. In this space of time, Rohmer manages to drag us through just about all the human emotions in the book; quite an achievement as this is a typical Rohmer film in that it’s what most people would call a “slow” film.

 

I’ve talked about “slow” films before, so I’m not going to dwell on this. Suffice to say that I have no objection to films being slow. The fewer car chases and special effects, the better. A few weeks ago I rewatched Kiarostami’s “Through The Olive Trees” and that must be one of the all-time slowies – remember that amazing final scene where Hossein and Tahereh are walking through the field away from the camera, ten minutes of silence, the figures getting smaller and smaller…? Reader, I loved it.

 

There’s always plenty of chirpy dialogue in Rohmer. That’s another criticism people make of his work: he’s too wordy. I would have to agree that the constant flow of dialogue in “Suzanne’s Career” is unnatural, but what they say is hardly out of the ordinary. Suzanne has to talk too much; that’s part of her character and what makes her easy prey for Guillaume, who enjoys her banter, and her chattering makes up for Bertrand’s introspection.

 

The film is all beautifully straightforward except for one mysterious loose end. Bertrand hides some money he’s got from his parents and it goes missing. He immediately suspects Suzanne of lifting it (and practically justifies her theft by admitting he’s been sponging off her for weeks) but the viewer also suspects it was the sly Guillaume. Bertrand evidently prefers not to know where the money’s gone and refuses to make enquiries. If Suzanne did take the money, it would be out of keeping with the character that the viewer knows, but maybe not with the girl Bertrand and Guillaume both find so maddeningly attractive, which take me back to the original question: What do they both see in this girl? Obviously something that Rohmer hints at but doesn’t reveal.

 

There’s something absolutely irresistible about Paris in the 60’s. Oh that I had been born there just after the War. I would have been great.

 

I would have drunk coffee and wine to excess and probably dabbled with absinthe. I think “Suzanne’s Career” is a coffee film, preferably dark on a terrace, served by a thin waiter with a white jacket, whom I would address as Serge and he would call me Monsieur Martínez. I would sip my café noir and smoke my Gauloise while eyeing up the jeunes filles and pretending to read my Sartre.

 

Ah, regardez, Suzanne has sat down at the table next to mine. She simpers inanely in my direction and I smirk superciliously back at her and return to my Sartre but, zut, there’s something about her, a certain je ne sais quoi…

 

Merde, maybe I’m beginning to understand the film, after all.  

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4 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Luc on March 20, 2009 at 9:16 pm

    As usual, you have misunderstood the film. Bertrand isn’t jealous of Guillaume, he’s jealous of Suzanne. It’s painfully obvious that he’s gay. That’s why he doesn’t understand her, why she brushes him off, and why his relationship with Sophie gets nowhere. Guillaume doesn’t love Suzanne, he just flirts with her to wind up Bertrand. Pay more attention next time, sheeeeeeesh…

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  2. Posted by zaragozatwins on March 20, 2009 at 9:32 pm

    I really don’t think so, Luc. Guillaume practically poaches Suzanne from Bertrand and resents him for this reason, but he’s still his “copain”, so is always in two minds about trying to win her favours. The reason why he never gets anywhere with Sophie is that he’s obsessed with Suzanne. Sophie realises this, as does Suzanne, who maliciously pretends to set him up with Sophie. Guillaume is aware of this, too, and enjoys seeing his friend in a muddle. In fact, everybody is aware of it, except you.

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  3. Posted by Luc on March 20, 2009 at 9:39 pm

    Ha Ha! I have no idea what film you have watched, but it wasn’t “La Carrière de Suzanne”. Bertrand obsessed with Suzanne? You must have misread the subtitles, mon frère. He tries to avoid her all the time! He never wants to go out with her, it’s Suzanne that drags him along, to make Guillaume jealous, can’t you see that?

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  4. Posted by zaragozatwins on March 20, 2009 at 9:57 pm

    What?? I think you have been overdoing the absinthe, Luc. Bertrand’s obsession with Suzanne is the epicentre of the film. Even in the final scene, when he’s with Sophie, he’s paying more attention to Suzanne. Guillaume is out of the picture and Suzanne is married to Jean-Louis, blissfully aware that Bertrand is still crazy about her, and amused that Sophie is going out with him. There you go.

    Reply

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