SUMMER (Le Rayon Vert)
Directed by Eric Rohmer (1986)
"You don't have to go looking for love when it's where you come from" - Werner Erhard
We have been conditioned as a culture to believe that happiness lies in an ideal, future state. For example, we think it will all turn out when we finish school, when we get a job, when we get married, when we have children, then when we get divorced, or when we retire. It is always something or someplace more, better, or different but the more things change, the more they seem to remain the same. In Summer, aka The Green Ray, one of Eric Rohmer's most insightful and charming films, Delphine (Marie Riviere) is a young, intelligent, and good-looking Parisian secretary who has spent her life looking for "Mr Right". Like many who spend their life "searching", she is a perfectionist who keeps people away by maintaining impossible standards, then feels inadequate and unloved when things do not work out. She is interesting rather than interested.
When vacation time comes, her girlfriend goes to Greece with a boyfriend and she is left alone and feeling rejected. Turning down an offer to visit Ireland with her sister's family, she decides to take a trip to Cherbourg with a friend and her boyfriend, and does her best to fit in but it only leads to more frustration. After her friends prepare an elaborate dinner she tells them that she doesn't meat, seafood, or eggs and prefers vegetables like lettuce because they make her feel "light". She won't go sailing because it makes her seasick and she refuses a gift of apple blossoms because she thinks it's wrong to tear such large branches from trees. Rohmer impeccably captures Delphine's intense loneliness, a feeling of isolation that is even more pronounced when the people around you are doing what they think will make you happy. Near tears, she returns to Paris after only a few days in Cherbourg, then visits the Alps thinking she will go mountain climbing but she stays only one day.
When Delphine borrows a friend's apartment in Biarritz, however, she does settle down long enough to unpack. In Biarritz, the story is pretty much the same, however. Delphine says that she wants to meet people but when the opportunity arises in the form of two young men and Lena (Carita), a young Swedish blond, she runs the other way, although from all indications, leaving seems to be the most sensible option. Lena advises her to play cat and mouse with men. "It's like a card game", she says, "you can't reveal your hand right off". Delphine uses this piece of advice as another reason for beating herself up. "My hand is empty", she declares.
Delphine doesn't seem to believe in much, but, like many lonely people, she looks for signs that things are going to turn out all right. She is fascinated with playing cards and when she finds a green card lying in the street, she knows that green is her color of destiny for this year. While strolling the beach at Biarritz she overhears a conversation about a Jules Verne novel about an atmospheric phenomenon known as the Green Ray and she is mesmerized. According to Verne, just before the sun sets below the horizon, if you can see a burst of green light, it will help allow you gain an insight into your true self.
A synopsis of the plot, however, tells us little about what actually goes on in this mostly improvised film. Like most Rohmer works, what happens in the silences is more revealing than in the conversations. An entire world is written in the gestures, the facial expressions, and the nuances that reveal each character's personality. Summer is an intimate story of a woman's loneliness that rings true and brought back a flood of painful memories for me. Delphine, for all her warts, is very human. Somewhere up ahead always looks better than right here. When she can open herself up to the perfection of the moment, however, she becomes directly present to the world and can share its ineffable beauty.