Pauline At The Beach is a breezy, casually profound farce

Pauline At The Beach is a breezy, casually profound farce

Every day, Watch This offers staff recommendations inspired by a new movie coming out that week. This week: The Sundance hit The Spectacular Now has us thinking back on other teen romances. 

Pauline At The Beach (1983)

American movies about teenagers tend to restrict themselves as much as possible to the teenage viewpoint, with adults relegated mostly to the background. Which is odd, because a teenager’s primary goal in life is to figure out how to inhabit the adult world, and their sole means of doing so is to observe the behavior of adults—ultimately realizing, if they have any sense, that the boundary is largely meaningless. Eric Rohmer’s breezy-yet-pointed ensemble romance Pauline At The Beach places its title character, a 15-year-old played by Amanda Langlet, in the thick of adult deceit and confusion, and watching her navigate those turbulent waters with the serene self-possession that only French teenage girls seem to embody is an endless source of delight. This is arguably Rohmer’s most broadly entertaining film, presenting his typically inquisitive human comedy in the general shape of a bedroom farce, replete with misunderstandings and chance encounters. It’s also perhaps his most casually profound.

Right from the start, Pauline’s polite skepticism about romance—she confesses to never having been seriously interested in anyone—is contrasted with the swoony idiocy of her much older cousin (Arielle Dombasle), who yearns for love at first sight. Male complications appear in the form of two rivals for Dombasle, one of whom (Pascal Greggory) she’s already bedded and broken up with, while the other (Féodor Atkine) represents exactly the sort of hedonistic anti-commitment she abhors. Meanwhile, Pauline starts seeing a boy her own age (Simon De La Brosse), whose chivalrous attempt to help one of the grown-ups avoid being caught cheating provokes considerable turmoil. What makes the film so special—and so distinct from its American counterparts—is how its events are both taken seriously and taken in stride. These aren’t life-and-death matters, and the people involved know it, Pauline especially. The film’s presiding tone is one of wry amusement, and the movie ends with the same image that kicked it off, as the two women make a conscious decision to cling to their illusions. That may be the most valuable lesson one can learn about growing up. 

Availability: An out-of-print MGM DVD, which can be obtained through Netflix’s disc delivery service, and digital purchase through iTunes.

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