Pauline is pretty, intelligent and thoughtful. Pauline listens more than she talks, and is less quick to judge than the people around her. Pauline is 15. The next installment in Eric Rohmer's Comedies and Proverbs series after The Aviator's Wife and A Good Marriage, Pauline at the Beach (PatB) is again an unhurried exercise in characters speaking on and on and, somewhere in that process, revealing a little of themselves.
Pauline (Amanda Langlet) is holidaying in a seaside town with her older cousin, the glamorous Marion (Arielle Dombasle). Marion has just finished with her divorce, and the beginning of the film is quizzing Pauline about her love life. Pauline reveals herself to be a blank slate, not yet marked by any serious "affaires de coeur". While at the beach (a frequent location justifying its name in the title), they come across Pierre (Pascal Greggory), a former lover of Marion who still worships her and would like nothing better than for her to accept him. But Marion is no longer interested in Pierre romantically (certainly not the burning passion she wishes to experience in love), and his petty jealousy only puts her off. She is aroused by Henri (Feodor Atkine), an older more worldly-wise man they ironically meet through Pierre. But Marion wants an old-fashioned passionate romance and fidelity, and Henri, with his nomadic roving nature may not be willing to give her that. Apart from the menage-a-trois, there's also the teen Pauline meets at the beach, who she likes enough to hang around with.
Based on the films I have seen above, Rohmer's special ability is to take the exaggerated emotional situations of his characters and put it through a light of realism that exposes the absurdity or pettiness of it while still not making caricatures of them. In PatB, this is less successful than in the previous pictures. I felt that the characters and situations were not as nuanced as the ones in The Aviator's Wife and A Good Marriage. This is most apparent in the section of the film where a misunderstanding occurs, inadvertently initiated by Henri and perpetuated by Pierre. It is a gauche device, that feels like it dropped in from some dated melodrama. To be fair, it is resolved in a quiet Rohmer-esque fashion (the last scene between Pauline and Marion is lovely), but it does stick out. Pierre's character is also half-drawn; his petty behavior makes it hard to ever appreciate his side of the story.
Of course, the main character here is Pauline, and as Amanda Langlet plays her under Rohmer's direction, comes off very well. We understand and appreciate Pauline as an intelligent adolescent girl who listens to several opinions, but ultimately goes by her gut feeling and makes her own decisions. She seems more balanced than the adults around her. On the whole a decent watch, but I am hoping for the further films in this series to be better.