Delphine (Marie Rivière) is a Parisian secretary who gets dumped by her friend a couple of weeks before their holiday. She confides with various friends and family members, who make suggestions of possible vacation arrangements. We see the days of her summer holiday go by. She goes to Cherbourg with friends, but returns home. Then the Alps, where she spends about an hour. Then Biarritz where she meets a confident Swedish air hostess - Lena (Carita) and becomes friendly until a couple of men are encouraged onto the scene. She seems to be looking for something, love or something within herself, but spends much of her time running away. During several scenes of dialogue, we learn that she is a vegan, gets seasick boating and doesn’t like accepting picked apple blossom, as it’s basically destruction. Her standards seem rather high and is quite irritatingly opinionated. Much like all people with low self esteem, she uses these to bring herself down.
She also sees what she thinks may be signs. A green self-help leaflet, green playing cards and overhears a group of old-people discussing Jules Verne’s ‘Le Rayon Vert’ (The Green Ray). Dr. Friedrich Gunter Christlein (played by himself) is fortunately on hand to explain the atmospheric phenomena. It infrequently occurs when the sun is near the horizon and the atmosphere refracts the light so it appears momentarily green. According to the novel, when you see this, you gain a true insight into yourself.
Finally, on the way home, waiting at Biarritz station she meets a young man - Jacques (Vincent Gauthier). After talking a while, she impulsively asks if he would spend some time with her. He agrees and seeing a beach shop called ‘Rayon Vert’, she takes him to watch the sunset from the cliff top. But will they see le rayon vert? (Well come on, what do you think?)
You either love Eric Rohmer’s films or not, it’s been said. Le Rayon Vert is a boring film essentially, for most people. It looks like a documentary. It’s filmed on 16mm very simply with ambient light. There are shots of Delphine running down steps, walking along and just crying. Much of the dialogue is improvised and most of the cast are non-actors (family members often) simply playing themselves. Some people were apparently drafted in as they happened to be there and looked suitable. Nothing much really happens in the film and yet, there is something comforting and uplifting about it. It feels intensely personal because it’s like a camera being pointed at real events. Rivière is thin, fragile, vulnerable and somewhat sexy. She’s also totally convincing and there’s a blur of what is acting.
This is part of Rohmer’s Comedies and Proverbs series of films. He likes to have particular colours in his films and this one has green, as you might expect. In fact the costumes worn by characters are largely chosen by himself for this reason.
It’s an easy film to watch on a summer afternoon (perhaps with white wine). I think you need to empathise with Delphine in order to actually enjoy it. Music by Jean-Louis Valéro.
One of the directors of the French New Wave, Eric Rohmer, like his contemporaries, started his film career as a critic at the magazine Cahiers du Cinema, and after a few shorts made his first feature with Le signe du lion. My Night at Maud's was his first international hit, long after the other New Wave directors had made their initial impact, and set out his style as that of the "talk piece" where his characters, often young and middle class, conversed at great length in a way that exposed various truths about life as Rohmer saw them. His works were often grouped into cycles, and included Claire's Knee, Pauline at the Beach, Le Rayon Vert and his last, made when he was in his late eighties, The Romance of Astree and Celadon.