Eric Rohmer’s The Green Ray silkily lures you in, and before you know it, you’re fully engulfed in the world of Delphine (Marie Rivière), a perpetually depressed secretary who wants nothing more than true love, but lacks the confidence to really seek it out. Oddly obsessed with an ex-boyfriend and petrified of starting over, she finds herself at a loss when her traveling companion cancels their vacation plans last-minute. She wanders from Paris to Cherbourg to the Alps, trying different things at the urging of friends, yet finds herself weepier and more introverted with each stop. It’s not until she overhears a conversation about the green ray—a rarely glimpsed light that the sun emits if you catch it on the right day from the right angle—and subsequently meets a young man at the train station heading back to Paris that she begins to understand that life doesn’t have it in for her after all.
The Green Ray is interesting in that its protagonist is frequently unlikable, yet you can’t help rooting for her on some level—it’s reminiscent of Mike Leigh’s works in this regard. Delphine is full of self-pity, completely lacking in confidence, and her drab persona makes it tough to see why men would find her appealing in her current state. But as The Green Ray evolves, we begin to get to know Delphine through conversations and tearful meltdowns, and begin to sympathize with her more and more. Rohmer’s direction is sly, as he twists conventional techniques with great success—the ending could have been disastrously hokey, yet works marvelously under his strong hand. Structurally, the dialogue-heavy approach fits in nicely with the staggered summer days that Rohmer takes us through. It’s as if we ourselves are observing life, learning and evolving with Delphine.