Love in the Afternoon (Éric Rohmer, 1972)

The appearance of Eric Rohmer’s Six Moral Tales in the midst of the Sixties’ sexual revolution brought unexpected sobriety to the European sexual drama and the comedy of erotic manners. This film presents Rohmer’s most consistently provocative use of female sensuality.

Love in the Afternoon is a movie about temptation that also documents a specific moment in human history. The film is set during the gender wars following the gay and feminist movements. But, as opposed to the tandem psychological difficulties featured by Lean and Rossellini, Rohmer focuses on a male protagonist’s agony. This concentration on masculine ego prevails throughout the Moral Tales and gets at the crux of patriarchal ideology. Beyond that critique, however, lies an overall consideration of the basic, existential elements of life: emotion, time, and space.

Frédéric (Bernard Verley) is a middle-class lawyer, proud of his home life and in love with the idea of loving his pregnant wife and their first child. Chloé (as seen in the photo above) could be a Fatal Attraction–type threat, exacerbating Frédéric’s afternoon anxieties of lassitude and temptation, her erotic allure is made almost palpable with the physical frankness of a Manet odalisque.

The dangers of temptation are realized when the sudden reality of sex challenges Rohmer’s men, confronting their weaknesses and compulsions with moral dilemmas. The Moral Tales are structured to explore each man’s individual system of right and wrong conduct, eventually turning their private ethical battles into psychological farce. Love in the Afternoon closes Rohmer’s circle with what at the time must have seemed a shockingly conservative thesis(via).