What To Drink While Watching “Le Signe du Lion”


Heen and I have been watching a handful of old films by Eric Rohmer. You may recall his review of Suzanne’s Career, a film that we disagreed about. However, the one we watched today, Le Signe du Lion, united us once more. We both agree it’s the most “unRohmeresque” film we’ve ever seen, and neither of us cared for it much, mainly because of the silly ending.


It was Rohmer’s first full length film and, like I say, gives no clue as to the direction his film making would take. A failed American musician thinks he’s inherited a fortune, only for it to turn out to be a false alarm. He loses everything, money and friends, and wanders round Paris, sinking into clochardisme and contemplating suicide, until a stroke of luck reverts him to millionaire status.


Unlike so many of Rohmer’s films, there’s very little dialogue. Pierre, the main character, begins to lose his mind as he staggers through the summer streets, starving and filthy, and has an obsession with stone – “All these people, all this stone!” he wails in a beautiful crazy moment, clawing the walls in a delirious muddled rage. Even when his friends rescue him and inform him he’s a millionaire, he just tells them to go to hell. How unlike our friend Eric.


A word about the American actor who plays Pierre. His name is Jess Hahn and he made an amazing 120 films and yet is virtually unknown. He worked mainly with French and Italian directors, never won any awards, and died in anonymity in 1988. His performance is flawless in The Sign of Leo and it’s a shame he never made the big time.


There are a few scenes that Rohmer was to repeat in later films: Pierre sponging off friends and dodging out of hotels without paying; mundane shop scenes; lovers exchanging sweet nothingnesses with the main character looking on bemused; and, of course, scenes of the Seine at all times of day.


I was surprised at the way the film turned out, and not a little disappointed. I expected Pierre to jump into the river, to be quite honest. But the ending picks up a scene from the beginning of the film; the stars come out after Pierre has been moaning there aren’t any stars in Paris and he goes off to celebrate his unwarranted good fortune. This film comes in Rohmer’s “Moral Tales” category but it’s hard to see what he’s getting at from a morality angle. Something along the lines of “It’s OK if you’re a loser, everything will turn out all right in the end” or “It doesn’t matter what you do, somebody else will decide your fate” or just “I love Paris”, which I’d say is a moral precept on its own.


Right now I’ve got a heavy cold. Nobody in Spain gets a cold, by the way, everybody gets flu. But I know this is a cold. I’ve been taking loads of paracetamol so I couldn’t drink any wine watching this film, which is what I really wanted. Heen decided to drink a bottle of Sauternes and kept saying, “Mmmmm”. You’re supposed to drink plenty of liquid when you’ve got a cold, so I got through two cups of tea and a large glass of grapefruit juice and I think that may be one reason why I didn’t like the film much.


This cold will stay with me till I pack my bags and head off to Mongolia. The prospect is rather disturbing. 



One response to this post.

  1. Posted by Hugo on March 31, 2009 at 6:07 pm

    Thank you for writing about this movie! I saw it many years ago and thought it was very peculiar. I confess it’s the only Rohmer film I’ve ever seen. I will watch his later films.


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