Pauline at the Beach

Pauline à la plage

Eric Rohmer, France, 1983, Les Films du Losange


The first shot of Pauline at the Beach is the titles and credits. They are displayed over the image and then disappear. The story of the film starts with the sound of Marion, played by Arielle Dombasle, arriving in her car for the holidays with her cousin Pauline beside her. The audience wait for something to happen, and stare at the gate which occupies the centre of the frame. The sound world is very much in evidence as birdsong is heard. It is only with the arrival of the characters that the story begins. Rohmer’s work often features places as an integral part of his story telling. His stories are very precisely rooted in specific places. Place names often featured in the titles of several of his films, right from the start of his career: The Boulangerie of Monceau, Clermont-Ferrand in My Night at Maud’s, Claire’s Knee in Annecy. We find out later in the film that the action of Pauline at the Beach is taking place near Mont-Saint-Michel at a Normandy seaside resort. If the perimeter of the story is large enough, several specific places recur throughout the film: Marion’s house, the Ethnologist’s house, the beach where Pierre, played by Pascal Greggory, runs courses in windsurfing. It’s at Marion’s house that everything starts, it serves as the point of departure for the story. The film ends in a logical fashion, looping back on itself with the closing of the gate, and Marion and Pauline, dressed in sailing gear just as at the start of the film. The gate also bookends their holidays opening, and then closing at the end. For both the characters and the audience it offers the potential of unexpected meetings, of stories yet to come. The film presents itself as a small piece of theatre, with a real-life set, in which the story unfolds respecting the timeless unities of space, time and action.

The film cuts to later in the afternoon on a wide shot, which has the feel of a long take, coming before a cut later in the sequence, following a sudden zoom. The wide shot looks like a painting, as a range of colours are spread between the space and the characters therein. The white and light blue of the clothes brings out the greens and purples in the vegetables, as seen in a very carefully framed shot which is emphasised by the choice of shooting in the 4:3 ratio. The characters bring the theatricality of the situation to life in a real, living environment, with the hydrangeas being cut before us and with the entrances and exits into the space being kept out of sight.  The narrative interplay is very clear, right from the first words said, and the rest of the film comes from the contrasting hopes and wishes of the two young women – all the chance encounters and surprises yet to come are now possible.