Le Rayon Vert (1986) – A tale of women and loneliness

I’ve checked off my first Éric Rohmer movie with this one. Another director of whom I had movies on my watchlist for a while. I think I’ve had A Summer’s Tale (Conte d’été) on there the longest and I still haven’t watched it. This plot sounded a little more interesting to me at the moment of picking a movie and I’m glad I did watch this melancholic tale of loneliness. The grim mood of the protagonist Delphine is compensated for by the beautiful sceneries of Paris, Cherbourg, the Alps & Biarritz.

Delphine is portrayed by Marie Rivière who also co-wrote this movie which means that she knows how to live inside Delphine’s skin better than anyone else. In the beginning of the movie, the friend of Delphine cancels their vacation plans and seeing the fact that Delphine recently broke up with her boyfriend she comes to the realization that she’ll be completely alone this summer. The film follows her during her free weeks as this realization dawns on her more and more and she slowly descends into a state of depression. We find out how she feels through conversations with her friends in which she keeps finding excuses why she’s not doing anything to change her situation. She absolutely doesn’t wanna do anything alone this summer but she acknowledges that she doesn’t know how to make human contact either so she’s stuck in the middle. Eventually she caves and joins her friend to Cherbourg where she is even more confronted with her loneliness as she sees happy couples and children around her and decides to return to Paris. Then she decides to visit the Alps alone but she turns around as soon as she gets hold of the key to the residence she was supposed to stay at.

No matter where she goes, she can’t escape herself. She ends up in Biarritz where all her dreams are supposed to come true: she wanted the beach and the sun, all of which we can see in perfectly captured shots. She even meets a friend, a promiscuous Swede who is not afraid to meet new people and get intimate. The depressed Delphine runs away crying as she realizes that maybe she is not meant to be with anyone as she always runs away from intimacy. She would rather be alone than have the wrong company. With this in mind she turns around to Paris, yet again. But before she arrives there, she meets a boy who awkwardly flirts with her in the train station. Is he what she’s been looking for?

The film is captured perfectly by the title. It refers to a book by by Jules Verne of the same title which is explicitly referenced in the movie. The green ray is a scientific phenomenon which essentially means the last ray of the sun that is visible to us. You can see it very rarely and mostly on very clear evenings. Delphine hears about this green ray when she overhears a book club conversation on the beach. Ever since then, she starts aspiring to see the green ray which runs parallel to her search for happiness. Even though the green ray is the last ray of the sun before it becomes dark and should therefore be something rather depressing, for her it signifies the end of her misery.

Summertime Sadness by Lana Del Rey would be a perfect soundtrack to this film, sadly it’s made a few decades after. What made this film so spectacular is not the storyline nor the pace but the feeling that it captures. You can easily identify with Delphine as she looks for meaning and happiness but can’t help dragging herself down in the search for this. That is what depression can do with you. I have not found many films where a lonely woman is the protagonist so I found this very refreshing as I am sure my being able to relate to Delphine gave the film an extra boost for me. It is however not a perfect film by any means. Sometimes the conversations are a bit superficial and fall flat or drag on a little too much. I find this to be typical of many French movies. If the dialogue was a little more intelligent or meaningful here and there it would have easily been a 4 or 5 star movie. Regardless, the movie still hit very close to home and I think that everyone, man or woman, who has experienced loneliness in a time that you are supposed to be happiest as you are surrounded by friends, family, sun and the freedom you’ve been longing for can relate to Delphine. She experiences the existential angst that we all become a victim of sooner or later as we are confronted with all our possibilities and that the only limit to those possibilities is our own self. If you can’t relate, you will probably hate her character as she doesn’t always come across very sympathetic.

My rating: 3,5* 

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