Photo by Isabel Cruz
The sounds of water rolling onto the shore and birds gently chirping make up the soundtrack for “La Collectionneuse.” We are supplied with no music, just the paradisiacal sounds of the French Riviera and a voiceover from our narrator Adrien, as he tells of his experience while at a villa by the coast with a friend, and unexpectedly, a slightly younger woman. She is the titular “La Collectionneuse.” She is a collector of men.
The fourth in French New Wave director Eric Rohmer’s Six Moral Tales, “La Collectionneuse” follows the basic story structure which persists through all six films of the series. The structure is roughly this: a love triangle between a man and two women. One who the man claims to love, and the other whom he can’t seem to help but be seduced by. This dynamic conceives questions of morality and desire within the male narrators and through the first-person narrative, we are invited into the psyches of these men but even as a director, Rohmer does nothing to shape our opinions on the narrator – he lets the men speak for themselves.
The film begins with a prologue (one of three) titled “Haydée.” Haydée strolls along the edge of the water, and the camera follows, never letting her out of sight. She stops, and the camera pans down her body before stopping on her back, her knees, and her collarbone. She is a tan, young woman in a bikini, and the camera treats her as an object of desire, mimicking the gaze of a man and setting the tone for the rest of the film.
Upon arrival at the villa, Adrien enters with the expectation of spending the next month in solitude along with another friend, a man named Daniel, after failing to convince his girlfriend to join him. But upon receiving last-minute word that a woman will stay at the house as well, he becomes incredibly annoyed and convinced that her mere presence will ruin his wish for a peaceful vacation. And later, after discovering that she is a “collector of men” (meaning that she likes to go out with men and sleep with them occasionally), Adrien loses any ability to relax and mind his own business.
Haydée is no criminal for going out at night and meeting men but to Adrien, the presence of a sexually liberated woman seems to be a nightmare. Because how could he as a man who is attracted to women, possibly relax with a woman nearby?
As Adrien watches Haydée pick up more men, he begins a confirmation bias. It is clear that Haydée minds her own business and is friendly with Adrien and Daniel, as they are all temporarily roommates, but Adrien twists her straightforward actions to fit his victimizing narrative. He swears that she puts on a cool act in attempt to seduce Adrien just so he doesn’t have to face the fact that she might not be interested in him at all. It seems that he cannot fathom the idea that a woman wouldn’t pursue him, especially if that woman is a “slut.” Adrien is the stereotypical insecure, egoistic male who habitually projects his problems onto women while the women do nothing other than exist.
Haydée is an unintentional femme fatale. She is beautiful and confident and minds her own business, which is enough to drive both Adrien and Daniel into despair. During one of the stand-out scenes, Daniel bursts into a raging speech condemning Haydée for all the harm she has supposedly created while Haydée lies blank-faced on the couch, and smokes a cigarette.
“La Collectionneuse” is a fictional film, but is reminiscent of documentary-style filmmaking. It is naturalistic, exempt from any non-diegetic music or stylized cinematography, and like a journalist, Rohmer lets the events of the film speak for themselves. The ambiguity of the story and the opportunity for audience interpretation comes from the contradicting narratives of the voiceover and the action that is played out on-screen. Nothing that Haydée does really criminalizes her to be the “slut” or seductress that Adrien makes her out to be, but Adrien’s narration might lead one to believe otherwise.
“La Collectionneuse” is a tale of moral conflict and with Rohmer’s passive voice in the story, he leaves us to decide who to believe. Will we take the side of the man or the woman? Like a Rorschach test, our interpretation of the film might be a reflection of ourselves. If you think that Haydée only minds her own business, then you’re like me, but if you see nothing wrong with Adrien’s interpretation of the situation, then we probably wouldn’t get along, but to each their own.
Despite the focus that is placed on Adrien and his tendency to speak in a narcicisstic manner, “La Collectionneuse” is ironically a feminist film. Maybe it’s odd to give a misogynist the time of day, but in this case, it’s lighthearted and so absurd that I find it comical. And maybe hearing a stupid man dig himself into a hole gives me a sense of superiority, but so what?