From an auteurist standpoint, the great directors have the power to transform bad, lackluster, or cliched material into great art. But even the mightiest directors have had a few duds. Robert Altman’s Quintet is ignored by almost everyone; stalwart Fordians do not look kindly upon Born Reckless; even the hardcore Hawksians consider Trent’s Last Case to be without merit. (There is also some disagreement regarding A Song is Born.) Hitchcock had Juno and the Paycock, and Michael Mann probably doesn’t like to think about The Keep.
It’s quite rare, then, that a filmmaker (or, occasionally, a filmmaking team) should pitch a no-hitter, from start to finish. Here’s a list of ten. For sanity’s sake we are grading on a slight curve: feature filmmakers only, their documentary work (if any) doesn’t count, nor do their shorts, TV episodes, and “etc” work.
1. Eric Rohmer
“Eric Rohmer never made a bad film.” So said to me an esteemed colleague at the 2011 New York Film Festival, as we discussed, among other matters, Howard Hawks, just before a screening of the Dardenne brothers’ The Kid with a Bike. Fortunate enough – perhaps blessed – to have only just recently been able to catch every last one of Rohmer’s feature films (and a few shorts and non-theatrical works), I flipped through my mental Rolodex of his filmography and, after my eyelids ceased twitching bizarrely, I replied, “Indeed. He never did.”
Born Maurice Scherer, Rohmer has two things in common with fellow countryman Robert Bresson – he was something of a late bloomer, and his career, considered by some to be defined by a handful of easily identifiable traits, is actually much more nuanced, enriched by shifts in style, the “rules” accepted by conventional wisdom often being bent or broken within many of the films that are supposed to be his most typical. The most pernicious myth that dominates Rohmer’s reputation is that his aesthetic reflected a visually apathetic director who was only concerned with how his thematic material was diagramed by dialogue, incident, and more dialogue. While the second part of that sentence absolutely holds true as an essential part of understanding his work, Rohmer’s so-called “talk” films are unmistakably visually distinct (Francois Ozon proved this with a Rohmer homage in his 2009 Le refuge), and there’s much more to hear than pretty young people debating the dynamics of love, morality, and art. Every time an ocean wave hits a beach in the south of France, a few francs in licensing fees should be forwarded to his estate.
Introduce yourself to Rohmer: Pauline at the Beach
Master Class: Claire’s Knee, My Night at Maud’s, La collectioneuse, The Aviator’s Wife, La rayon vert, Full Moon in Paris, Autumn Tale, The Romance of Astrea and Celadon, The Marquise of O…, Chloe in the Afternoon, Conte d’ete, A Tale of Winter
Deep Cuts: Perceval le Gallois, The Sign of the Lion, The Tree, the Mayor, and the Mediatheque, 4 Adventures of Reinette and Mirabelle, Triple agent, The Lady and the Duke, Rendezvous in Paris