In 1987, I was studying art history at the École du Louvre when I met an older German man named Peter.
Peter was stern, didactic, exacting, prickly and super intellectual. He relished arguing loudly at dinner for the fun of it. Something a young twenty-three-year-old Southern woman wasn’t used to.
He was also a perfect gentleman, and I had zero attraction to him. Thus, the friendship rolled along seamlessly. Even though I don’t remember exactly how we met, I do remember everything we did.
Peter took me to the opera at the Bastille. He gave me a historical book about Rome. He introduced me to small movie theaters in the Parisian arrondissements. We went at odd times of the day, and the theaters would be packed. Through him, I learned the French loved films.
One film in particular, I distinctly remember — Claire’s Knee by Éric Rohmer. It was about a man soon to be married who develops a relationship with two young women at a lake house in Annecy, France.
In The New Yorker, Richard Brody writes that almost all of Rohmer’s
films have the same underlying structure, the temptation and rejection of a false love while waiting for a true one.
Rohmer made erudite films which was probably why Peter liked them. His films were known for people talking
to each other with dialectical precision, intellectual flair, and a stylish offhandedness…
I love Michael Newton’s observation that Rohmer’s movies are “rooted in the lives we all live…sitting on buses, waiting for trains, meeting friends for drinks, family dinners…He’s the Balzac of cinema…
Newton also states that in Rohmer’s
films, everyone has their theory of love, and if they believe that one cannot have a theory of love, well, then that’s their theory.
Rohmer once said: “Truth isn’t found in assertions.” A statement with which I’m imagining opinionated Peter might not have agreed. Now that I’m older and more formed, like Rohmer, I also prefer to live in a flowing what-if theoretical space than in the land of rock solid assertions.
Looking back, I can now see that Peter was such a good mentor. He broadened my worldview and made my life richer. I lost contact with him once I moved back to the States, but I do still have his red book about the history of Rome on my bookshelf.
Below is a snippet of Claire’s Knee.