Written by Michael Clawson
The final installment in Rohmer’s Moral Tales is the only one where the tempted male protagonist is actually married, and not only that, but rather happily so. Frederic is, however, a daydreamer. After commuting into Paris from the suburbs everyday and busying himself with work in the mornings, his mind tends to drift in the afternoon, the throngs of attractive women he passes on the street stirring in him a longing for first love again, even though he is maritally content. One of the film’s greatest sequences is of Frederic, as he sits in a cafe, imagining himself actually courting a series of women on the street, each of them played by key actresses from the previous Moral Tales.
He wants both, the newness and excitement he imagines feeling were he to take up with someone else, and the rhythm and comforts of loving familiarity with his wife. Rohmer’s suggestion that those desires exist in parallel, grating up against each other, drive a tension that’s only further magnified by the reemergence of Chloe, a woman out of Frederic’s past that he begins flirtatiously spending his afternoons with. Just like he reads different books at once to satisfy the desire for different forms of escape, he tries to do the same with Chloe and his wife, but it’s really just torture he’s inflicting upon himself, the temptation to sleep with Chloe felt every time they meet, but him never actually succumbing to the urge.
Relative to the other Moral Tales, here Rohmer strikes me as more sympathetic to his male lead. While in no way excusing Frederic’s flirting with Chloe behind his wife’s back (I spent a good deal of the movie feeling sad for her), he recognizes the conflicting, concurrent desires of married people, and reveals an optimism about happy marriages withstanding temptation. Rohmer does risk looking like he’s patting Frederic on the back in the end for not cheating on his wife, which bothers me, but the hopefulness and romance of the conclusion is moving nonetheless.
Love in the Afternoon Trailer