Thursday, August 16, 2012

Le Rayon vert (1986)

When you’re single and looking for love, your nights out mean a lot. Conscious of happy couples who met accidentally at parties, in bars, in lineups, you feel pressure to keep putting yourself out there—to acquiesce to fate; or, to put it less mystically, to the unpredictability of life. 

Le Rayon vert concerns a young woman named Delphine (Marie Rivière), faced with this problem on a larger scale. She’s a secretary, newly single, planning a vacation with a friend; but the friend backs out. Delphine is agitated, and not just at this sudden change of plans. She knows that if she travels alone, she’ll have no one to distract her from her loneliness, and worse, no excuse to avoid meeting someone new. 

Had this simply been the story of an unhappy woman taking a trip, director Erich Rohmer’s Le Rayon vert would have been patronizing. But it is better than that, because its lead is. Delphine’s aware that she’s too reserved; fears that she’s too picky. Her unhappiness is plain to everyone, including herself. Despite it all, she hesitates to accept the varied, often tedious advice offered her by those who claim to be happy. Delphine, I think, is smarter than the men and women she converses with, breezily, throughout this film. She lacks self-awareness only in her inability to recognize her own, deeply buried, stubborn strength.

Le Rayon vert is a chatty movie, and also a pretty one. Rohmer films wistful, beautiful Rivière in some of France’s loveliest vistas: on docks and rockfaces, at vineyards and on a topless beach. Around her people eat, or recline, or go about their business, with indifferent ease. The dialogue has the same feel: much of it is improvised, meandering in the charming, surface-y way real conversations do, particularly when the participants are comfortable. Whether you find these vignettes refreshing or simply long is a matter of taste. I enjoyed most of them. 

Rivière’s charm had a lot to do with that. She is impossible to ignore in this film. Magnetic, at least to me, which made Delphine’s predicament seem ironic at times. How can anyone not want this woman in their bed? She is lovely. She is funny and sad at once. Her smiles are rare, but they embody promise. 

The film’s title is taken from a Jules Verne novel of the same name. The novel—according to a detailed conversation overheard by Delphine—describes a green light occasionally witnessed when the sun dips below the horizon. Those viewing the light gain exceptional mental clarity concerning matters such as love. Such sightings of the green light are rare—they require ideal atmospheric conditions. Delphine is intrigued by this, since an astrologist had explained to her some time earlier that green would be her colour, and that she should therefore pay close attention to green things. 

We, too, are encouraged to pay attention to green things. Many scenes in Le Rayon vert have little green details: green scrunchies and hairclips, bathing suits, hats, and lots of plants. I found this visually distracting, but it speaks to one of Rohmer’s larger points. In the absence of a willingness to act, one turns to signs and systems that seem to compel action. 

I say this: whatever works for Delphine should be good enough. Though I liked Le Rayon vert, I truly loved Delphine—always hoping her happiness would be the net result of the concessions and rejections she endured along the way. Whatever the means of bringing two people together, be it random or planned, superstitious or scientific, if the result is true love, it suits me fine.

Where to find Le Rayon vert: 
Le Rayon vert (The Green Ray, also known as Summer) screens Sunday, August 26, 2012, at Toronto’s TIFF Bell Lightbox—part of the Summer in France programme.


  1. This would be an interesting film for women. Nowadays, there are a lot of women who probably can relate to the main character of the film.

  2. Unlike a lot of films from the 80s, it ages well. It's about universal things.