Summertime fascination, Eric Rohmer-style, is a gentle flirtatious breeze, one that carries early-eighties sexuality and casual connections on the shore of a wild-Atlantic heart. Third in the ‘Comedies and Proverbes’ series, Pauline à la Plage follows fifteen-year old Pauline (Amanda Langlet) who is on vacation in Normandy with her glamourous cousin Marion (Arielle Dombasle).
It’s September, at the very end of the vacation season, and they’re staying in Marion’s family villa, a slow walk up from the beach. Marion needs a love that will ‘go up in flames’ and it is this quest that makes her more a friend than a ‘guardian’ to Pauline. Alongside her own small romance with a local boy, Pauline finds herself observing Marion’s attempts to fulfill her desire, and it is no surprise she ends the trip saying, ‘love’s an insanity.’
Soon after their arrival, they bump into Pierre (Pascal Greggory) the well-meaning surfer and Marion’s old friend and admirer. Pierre simmers intensely at Marion’s ballerina-beauty, and then makes the mistake of introducing her to the handsome free-spirit Henri (Féodor Atkine). Conversation flows easy – on the beach, in the villa and on the dance-floor. Marion talks from a dreamer’s axis, ‘I’ve never burned with love. Except in dreams …’ She wants love and she wants it as passionate as the ocean in which, we observe, she likes to play, but not swim.
Lust blooms between Marion and Henri. Marion wants more, but Henri doesn’t ‘see things in terms of ownership and possession’. He promises Marion nothing, refusing to be something he’s not. He takes women as they come, and doesn’t mind if they go. Henri is content appreciating Marion’s beauty, as a passenger, while she thinks her appeal will seduce him into loving her, as a goddess. ‘Learn to live for the moment. It’ll make you stronger,’ he advises Marion.
However, Marion’s self-delusion is such that she sails on in contented fantasy, loving the idea of love, enjoying talking about it more than living the reality. Meanwhile Pierre is grilled by jealousy, convinced that he is right; he is a young evangelist, highlighting Henri’s wrongs. Henri is ‘a player’ and Marion refuses to see it.
Pierre is frustrated that Marion wants Henri instead of him, the boring, judgmental man in a wet-suit. When he spies an interaction between him and the ‘beach peanut-seller’ Louisette (a soulful, candy-fluffed performance by Rosette) he decides to speak out. However, the truth doesn’t set him free. He unsettles those around him and is left more indignant than before.
Pauline is peaceful, looking on with curiosity, and slightly amused by the adults around her. She accepts them with saintliness, and towards the end, sitting in a restaurant with Pierre, she directs a clear homily: ‘No one tolerates other people’s choices … how come you decide what others are to like or dislike?’
Pauline’s head, untangled by failed romances, is rational and wise; Rohmer presents her strengthened by innocence and youth, fit to tackle life’s strong waves.
Director: Eric Rohmer (1983)