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The last of Rohmer's Six Moral Tales. Frederic leads a bourgeois life; he is a partner in a small Paris office and is happily married to Helene, a teacher expecting her second child. In the afternoons, Frederic daydreams about other women, but has no intention of taking any action. One day, Chloe, who had been a mistress of an old friend, begins dropping by his office. They meet as friends, irregularly in the afternoons, till eventually Chloe decides to seduce Frederic, causing him a moral dilemma. Written by
Chloe in the Afternoon is the last of six moral tales of Eric Rohmer and my favorite of the three. Frederic (Bernard Varley), is a happily married, well-to-do lawyer married to Helene (Francoise Verley), a somewhat chilly English professor. He is attracted to other women and misses the time when he was free. "I feel marriage closes me in", he says, "cloisters me, and I want to escape. The prospect of happiness opening indefinitely before me sobers me. I find myself missing that time, not too long ago, when I could experience the pangs of anticipation". Frederic rationalizes that his fantasies about other women are merely a reflection of the depth of his love for his wife. In one amusing sequence, he dreams that he possesses an amulet that gives him control over the will of any passer-by, a power of which he takes decided advantage of.
When Chloe (Zouzou), a free-spirited friend he used to know shows up, Frederic finds a release in her companionship and is able to confide in her in a way that he is unable to do with his wife. They spend afternoons together talking about love and relationships. She confesses that she doesn't want to be married but would like to have a child, particularly one with Frederic. The central tension of the film is the choice Frederic must make between his passion for Chloe and his love for his wife. Although he is tempted to have an affair with Chloe, he spends too much time pondering the pros and cons and doesn't act. Chloe on the other hand is in love with Frederic and has a come-what-may attitude toward his entanglements.
Like Jerome (Claire's Knee) and Jean-Louis (My Night at Maud's), Frederic is weak and indecisive and is forever attempting to justify his inability to choose. He stands on the edge of temptation but is never quite ready to jump. Rohmer does not, however, make any moral judgments but hints that Frederic's temptation and pangs of conscience are something most of us go through at some time in our lives.
Though there is a lot of talking in Chloe in the Afternoon, it never seems false or tiresome. This is a very charming film that Pauline Kael called "in every respects, a perfect film". It has a natural rhythm with characters that are so real that you don't want to leave them when the film ends. As Frederic's ultimate choice looms, we are privy to some sharp and insightful dialogue that illuminates the complexity of relationships. The story is told from the husband's point of view and we are left wondering how different it would be if told by his wife. Her tears at the end provide a clue.
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