His Lonely Wooden Tower

His Lonely Wooden Tower May 20, 2024

Éric Rohmer’s tomb.
Source: Wikimedia user ManoSolo13241324

Suzanne’s Career (1963) reminds me of an uncomfortable time in my life. Like a lot of men from the suburbs, I thought I had it figured out. Up was up and down was down. My second year of college, I remember getting in a fight with my friends over a female friend within the group, though I never would have admitted the cause at the time. I wandered off in a rage until I found a more freewheeling acquaintance, who invited me to a paint party. I went. These events are supposed to use body-safe paint. This one did not. My clothing was ruined. My skin was stained for the next week. I recall walking into my German colloquium the next day and looking down at my blue-stained forearms. I was in a bad way.

Rohmer’s film centers on a character even more pitiable than I was. Bertrand (Philippe Beuzen) is a young college student studying onomastics, or the science of last name origins. He narrates his sad experience meeting a girl named Suzanne (Catherine Sée) who starts dating his crass and bullying best friend, Guillaume (Christian Charrière). Bertrand pities Suzanne, who endures Guillaume’s belittling comments and eventually pursues the narrator himself in an attempt to win back the now-bored Guillaume. Or at least that’s what he thinks. Maybe she really does have feelings for him; his distance and judgment make any real connection impossible.

In the end, Bertrand realizes his own immaturity when Suzanne shows up with an attractive personable fiancé. How can this average woman who lacks self-respect have won the day while Bertrand remains only friends with girls, alone and alienated from his former best friend Guillaume?

Bertrand thinks he can assign meaning to Suzanne as easily as he can trace the origin of a surname. It’s ridiculous when you put it that way, but many young men (and I suspect people more generally) think this way. I did once, I confess. Rohmer’s ability to unmask that impulse, to cut the young male ego down to size all while activating my own nostalgia for the freedom and lilting pace of young adulthood are remarkable achievements. It is Suzanne who gets the career. Bertrand (and I) still play catch up.

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