She’s rolling in the grass dressed in sunflower yellow, kissing a man about whom she’s passionately ambivalent (“Boyfriends and Girlfriends,” 1987). She’s strolling through the countryside in a fleecy blue sweater, having no fun at all (“The Green Ray,” 1986). She’s lounging on a beach in a red bikini and ivory bucket hat, about to embark on a confusingly ambiguous friendship with the shirtless Frenchman she’s observing (“A Summer’s Tale,” 1996).
This is summer love, Eric Rohmer-style: It isn’t easy, but it sure is chic.
The outfits featured in the late French filmmaker’s works have long been celebrated, and continue to build a following, now quite literally, on an Instagram account called @Rohmerfits, which debuted in May.
Rohmer’s films, which spanned the 1960s to 2000s, were famous for their unhurried plots: Characters bounce around France, in between the countryside, the seaside and the city; they analyze their romantic entanglements; they read Balzac; they seduce and irritate each other — and they do it all while wearing Mediterranean-blue sweaters, high-waisted jeans, billowy cotton shirts and pops of red.
“There’s just this air about them where you want to be within them,” Alexandra Tell, the creator of @Rohmerfits, said of the costumes. The characters are “often on vacation, so you want something that’s sort of breezy that you can move in,” she said. “His clothes aren’t extravagant, but they’re elegant in this easy, ineffable way.”
The secret to such aesthetic ease may lie in Rohmer’s devotion to naturalism. Like his contemporaries Jean-Luc Godard and François Truffaut, Rohmer, who died in 2010, began as a film critic. These critics-turned-auteurs “were very much against a sense of artificiality that stemmed from the shooting in studios,” said Ludovic Cortade, a film scholar who teaches French cinema at New York University.
An extension of that naturalism, Professor Cortade said, was Rohmer’s decision not to use costume designers for many of his films, and instead asked actors “to come up with several costume options that would reflect their own tastes, which was a great strategy to convey a sense of authenticity.”
The aesthetic is a sharp contrast to movies like the upcoming “Barbie,” which will be released this month. While “Barbie” plays with literal plastic, Rohmer did the opposite. “Maybe the ‘Barbie’ world is more reflective of our reality,” Ms. Tell said, while Rohmer’s earthy naturalism now “feels like more of an escape.”
Though the looks were fastidiously curated by Rohmer, they never felt forced, Professor Cortade said. In “Boyfriends and Girlfriends,” for example, a marigold tank top and belt, as worn by Blanche, who is played by Emmanuelle Chaulet, match the color of some orange juice in a glass cup. “You can see the wrinkles in the clothes,” said Ms. Tell, a 32-year-old writer and curatorial assistant who lives in Brooklyn. “It’s very tactile.”
The outfits’ simplicity allows audiences to focus on the characters and their relationships as they grapple with complex questions of morality and love. Though Rohmer’s tone could be witty and farcical, his films astutely tackled “the challenges of personal interactions and the awkwardness behind that” — a dynamic that has only been heightened with the advent of digital technology, Professor Cortade added.
In other words, it’s Rohmer’s blend of aspiration and realism that keeps his films — and costumes — so fresh, Ms. Tell said: His characters, like Margot in “A Summer’s Tale,” played by Amanda Langlet, wear clothes you would wear, but better styled. They too have challenging so-called situationships, but with the handsome Gaspard, played by Melvil Poupaud, and amid the backdrop of a grassy path.
In one scene in “The Green Ray,” Delphine, played by Marie Rivière, moans about going on vacation with her family after a breakup. Clad in a glorious crimson blazer, Delphine says through sobs: “I need a real vacation.” A friend, played by Rosette, convinces her to join a trip to Cherbourg, promising her they’ll “have fun and meet people.” Instead Delphine wanders around against the muted sun, morosely, lonely and dressed in all blue.