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Celluloid Flashback: The Green Ray

100_2611Sippin’ a Rayon Vert while watching Le Rayon Vert.

For my second “Celluloid Flashback” post, I’ve chosen to revisit Eric Rohmer’s 1986 masterpiece The Green Ray, aka Le Rayon Vert, aka Summer. (While the movie is known in the U.K. by its literally translated title, it has regrettably only ever been releaed in the U.S. by the English-language title Summer, perhaps because distributors feared “The Green Ray” would make what is essentially an intimate romantic comedy sound too much like science-fiction. Matters were infinitely complicated with the 1996 release of Rohmer’s Conte d’été, which was distributed in the U.S. as A Summer’s Tale. It’s enough to make you pull your hair out.) I had only seen The Green Ray once previously, on VHS in the 1990s, but a couple of neat coincidences caused me to track it down again recently in order to give it a fresh look. First, I noticed a relatively new craft beer on the market, a Belgian-style pale ale named “Rayon Vert,” which obviously took its name from the same Jules Verne novel that Rohmer’s film did. Because it amuses me to no end to take photographs of myself drinking a movie-related beer while watching the film in question, the idea of renting The Green Ray on DVD was thus planted. Then, I read Gilbert Adair’s delightful 1995 book Flickers in which the late critic celebrated the cinema’s centennial by analyzing one still image from one movie made each year between 1895 and 1994. His entry for the year 1986 was an examination of The Green Ray, and what he had to say about it was so damned intriguing that it sent me fairly racing to my local video store to check it out again.

greenray

The Green Ray is the fifth entry in Rohmer’s six-film cycle known as “Comedies and Proverbs” and many critics regard it as the best although, like all Rohmer’s movies, it’s not without its detractors. It tells the story of a young woman named Delphine (Marie Riviere), a Parisian secretary who decides to go on holiday alone three times over the course of one summer. The film’s true subject is loneliness and Delphine’s journeys are more psychological than physical as she learns, through her encounters with other people, a series of tough lessons that allow her to become less asocial and more engaged with life. Only when she learns to be content with herself is she truly ready to be transformed by the kind of love that has eluded her since the film’s beginning, represented by a climactic “double miracle” that recalls the cathartic ending of Roberto Rossellini’s masterpiece Journey to Italy. I believe Rohmer’s special genius as a writer/director was his uncanny ability to show, accurately and without condescension, the elaborate lengths to which human beings will go in order to deceive themselves. Marie Riviere is one of the best actresses Rohmer ever worked with (by my count he directed her a whopping 10 times, which is remarkable given how infrequently he tended to recast actors), and she arguably nails this quality of self-deception better than anyone, including the brilliant Jean-Louis Trintignant in My Night at Maud’s. The effortlessness of her semi-improvised performance was greatly abetted by Rohmer’s decision to shoot the movie with a lightweight 16mm camera, which clearly proved less intrusive than the larger and bulkier 35mm cameras to which the director was accustomed.

greenrayA real green ray photographed in Santa Cruz, California.

The film’s unusual title is a reference to a real optical phenomenon in which a setting or rising sun seems to emit a flash of green light. The observance of this phenomenon provides The Green Ray with its climactic moment (half of the “double miracle” referenced earlier), which, incidentally, is also a sublime reference point in Richard Linklater’s Before Midnight. According to Gilbert Adair, Rohmer spent a year attempting to film a real green ray and, only after deciding he was incapable of capturing one, resorted to creating the illusion in a lab with the aid of special effects. Adair calls Rohmer’s green ray “the tiniest and most moving special effect in the history of cinema” and notes that it is impossible to notice on a television screen. I practically smacked my forehead upon reading this, knowing that when I first saw the movie on VHS I literally did not see the green ray and thus did not fully comprehend the meaning of the ending. (Admittedly, I wasn’t quite as unfortunate as the student who told me she had never understood the ending of Citizen Kane until she saw it in my class because the word “Rosebud” hadn’t been legible on her tiny T.V. screen at home.) Because Adair wrote his book during the VHS era (when image resolution was considerably lower than what can be seen today on DVD or Blu-ray), I was eager to see The Green Ray again mainly to find out whether or not Rohmer’s tiny special effect would be visible on DVD. Is it? The following screen capture I created provides the answer:

vlcsnap-2013-08-17-21h25m09s99The cinema’s “tiniest and most moving special effect.”

The Green Ray won the Golden Lion at the Venice International Film Festival in 1986 (27 years ago next week). Rayon Vert Ale won Bronze at the San Diego County Fair in 2012. I endorse both.

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About michaelgloversmith

Filmmaker, author and Film Studies instructor. View all posts by michaelgloversmith

24 responses to “Celluloid Flashback: The Green Ray

  • Mitchell

    I saw this movie when it came out and fell in love with it. The main character Sabine was so adorable and infuriating – like something out of Jane Austen. She appears again as a minor character in ‘Le Beau Mariage’ .
    That last voice-over when you see ‘le rayon vert’ is so sweet and so movie that I remember it almost 30 years later. Thanks for reminding me about this beauty. Definitely need to see it again. (That vacation in the mountains when she is forcing herself to enjoy herself…..priceless!)

  • benherzberger

    LOL re: the anecdote about Rosebud.

  • Andrew Muzio

    Eric Rohmer’s 1986 classic “The Green Ray” aka “Summer” is a surprising amount of genius. Though this was the oldest director out of the French New Wave 5 to achieve success, he couldn’t have done it without all the work he put into it. Noting from class that this film only had a total of FOUR people working on it, Rohmer didn’t let that stop him from creating this admirable piece of art. With Marie Riviere, an actress that’s been in 10 of Rohmer’s films, she sets the stage for the movie. Although feeling sorry for her at the beginning of the film for losing her boyfriend, and having to go on vacation alone, the viewers are later treated to her annoying, cry-baby attitude that she doesn’t want to go anywhere alone because it’s no fun to her. Even after she meets people along the way on her 3 separate vacations, she still feels alone. Her psychological need for someone to be there to listen to her problems is what she’s dependent on. Let’s all thank the guy in the train station for that (even though she does cry with him too watching the sunset waiting for the Green ray).

  • Brian Skeggs

    Looking back on the film after reading this makes me appreciate actress Marie Riviere’s performance more. Originally I thought her portrayal of Delphine was just slightly above average when compared to the modern day female leads in movies where they are searching for love and battling with self deception. But her portrayal of this character was actually very genuine and realistic which makes this film an excellent romantic comedy. Riviere’s representation of someone who is not comfortable in social settings, meeting new people, and anxious around others is subtle and effective. I enjoyed how throughout the film we start to see her become more conscious of what she wants and more confident in her own decisions. We see several instances: her friend(s) in the beginning pressuring her to be more extroverted and put herself out there and then her friend she meets on the beach who begins well with but when Delphine is being pressured into a “foursome”, she runs away. After all these instances she becomes more self aware and sees that she needs to go about overcoming her loneliness her own way and not by being pressured by other people. Which leads to her asking out the man in the train station, where it is just a one on one interaction between them and no outside pressure.

  • Caroline Graczyk

    Even though I absolutely hated that character Delphine, I will admit that I do not condone blaming actors/actresses for the portrayal they gave of that character. I will admit that I agree with you that Marie did a fabulous job of portraying Delphine, even though I found the character herself to be just plain annoying. Marie did a great job portraying Delphine’s overall “uncomfortable” demeanor and very anti-social behaviors. It is almost like you can see actual social-anxiety stricken thoughts running through Marie’s head as she exhibits how Dlephine would react in certain situations. Like when Delphine and that lady she met on the beach (I have no idea what her name is) are talking and those two men join them at the table. While the other woman and one of the men are bantering on and on about random things and attempting to speak very bad german, Delphine is visually very uncomfortable. She is fidgety and continuously glances around the table as though unsure of what to do with herself. She finally gets angry enough that she storms away. Marie does a fantastic job throughout this entire scene conveying how unhappy and uncomfortable Delphine is in this situation and her little temper tantrum at the end of the conversation is actually very realistic to what a person with social anxiety would do when put in the situation Delphine found herself in. Marie’s portrayal of Delphine and her social anxiety is just overall very realistic and very detailed even though the actual character of Delphine is almost unbearably annoying. In the end, it isn’t Marie’s fault that the character was so unbearable, but she did a great job working with it.

  • Javed Lukovic

    Throughout Rohmer’s movie “The Green Ray”, we saw the ups, but primarily the downfalls of Delphine’s life. In Delphine, we witnessed such an extreme sense of loneliness that it made vacations to some of the most beautiful places on earth look absolutely miserable for her. For example, when she visited the Alps, she was literally there for a hour or so before she started crying and left. You said it best in your article as Rohmer had a gift of showing the lengths and desperation people will go through just to deceive themselves. I think more people than not who have watched this movie might find that all the crying was annoying throughout the movie, but I feel like it was only an aid to exemplify the treachourus journey that loneliness and stress will spread throughout your mind and body. Overall, this film was great, it showed great life lessons, plentiful amount of humor and an addicting plot that had me hooked from the very beginning. Who knows, maybe one day if the opportunity arises, I can try to get a glimpse of the scientific phenomenon of the green ray.

  • Seila Jakupovic

    After watching The Green Ray, I realized even when the character is really annoying, it takes a good actor or actress to portray that character. Marie Riviere did an excellent job at being that annoying girl. The ending was what caught my attention the most. Delphine was so caught up in seeing this green ray because she believed it would help her somehow. The green ray was such an amazing phenomenon and she was so happy when she saw it. The fact that the director tried to catch the green ray for a year and still didn’t was probably such a disappointment. Editing it in was still believable and when I watched the film, I thought it was an actual green ray caught on camera. I didn’t realize that VHS didn’t show all the details in movies like DVD’s do. Maybe because the last time I watched a VHS tape was when I was 10, but I also thought they were clear. Maybe if we watched the original VHS tape version of The Green Ray, we really wouldn’t understand the movie so much either.

  • Vanessa Kostopoulos

    During Rohmer’s film, “The Green Ray”, he displayed the worth of one’s self to his audience through Delphine’s pessimistic character. I think Rohmer chose Marie Riviere as a great candidate for playing the role as Delphine. Riviere was so skillful in the way she acted during the film, and had to be truly engaged while playing such a difficult, negative character. To think that Delphine’s life was “bad” or unsatisfying, it was the total opposite! In fact, Delphine is the one who made her life the way it was. My favorite part was the end of the movie when she FINALLY let the nice gentlemen at the train station engage in conversation with her. I knew this man would be the “lucky one” for Delphine for some reason. I loved seeing her face when she finally looked at the “green ray” and got the chance to realize and know the feeling of it for herself. Also, the ending of the movie left me wondering as to what Delphine’s purpose was in life now, or if she will end up being with this man for the long term. The “Green Ray” was a great, interesting movie and I suggest everyone watch it to see how carefully Rohmer has produced this masterpiece!

  • Kevin Gau

    This specific feature film, The Green Ray, was an emotional film. What you can learn from this film is possibly the concept of Empathy; as Brene Brown would have noted: of Empathy. Dr. Brown defines empathy through “ four distinct quantities: perspective taking, staying out of judgement, recognizing emotional and communicating it. So empathy is basically feeling with people (individuals)”.
    I believe that a few people were able to understand Delphine personality. As we can see from after watching the film, sometimes forcing one to do something may not work entirely but on the other hand, listening is also the best option as well. If there is one other topic that I would take from this film, it is probably the power of emotion – how we all have it, how we use it, and how we cope with it or in some individual cases tolerate it. But I like to think of it this way, Patience is Key.
    Overall, the film was very adventurous as like Breathless, where the audience gets to experience the world through the eyes of the actors. In a way, I would also like to see the process of Eric Rohmer in an effort of searching for the green ray. You learn something new everyday -“the tiniest and most moving special effect in the history of cinema”.

  • Kevin Gandhi

    After watching Rohmer’s movies, “The Green Ray” I felt sad and annoying by Delphine. Rohmer hire Delphine (Marie Riviere) for his movies ten time. That’s fabulous work done by Marie. In this movie Delphine were crying all the time and looking for boyfriend to go to the summer vacation. Delphine want to the three different places for summer vacation, but she was not happy. First she went to her friend beach party for the weekend, but she finds that she’s the only one among the group who is single. That’s why she quickly returns to Paris. During lunch time, they were taking about boring topic been vegetarian and try to make her eat meat. There were one seen I felt for the moment, I am in India enjoying beautiful sunny weather and winds sounds was great. Second trips she went to the Alps, but she felt alone and turn around. Lastly, she went to the beach and found boyfriend way she like. When she meet with two strange man with Delphine girlfriends, she was ruing away form that man was so funny and silly. Delphine character was strange, but she did the awesome job with it. My favorite seen when Delphine and boyfriends siting on bench and waiting for to see Green Ray was nice. My first time heard about Green Ray and I want to see in real time.

  • Hank Besser

    I thoroughly enjoyed the artfulness in the dialogue/acting in “The Green Ray”. In accordance to your analysis of Rohmer’s genius in terms of the psychological aspects of the film, he is definitely able to “…elaborate lengths to which human beings will go in order to deceive themselves”. To me, analyzing the details of Delphine’s (played brilliantly by Marie Riviere) multitude of mental instabilities is not Rohmer’s intention for the film. Rohmer has an uncanny ability to exemplify the many doubts that so many of us have (sometimes resulting in emotional turmoil) and, in my opinion, is what he was trying to convey.

    Yes, it was very puzzling and hard to understand why Delphine acted the way she did in so many parts of “The Green Ray”. However, Delphine’s journey throughout France resulted in actually seeing the green ray (a very rare, yet commonly presented topic in this film) when she gets out of her ‘comfort zone’ and follows the seemingly nice man she met in the train station. Although my overall amusement towards this film was low due to the nature of the plot and the nature of the characters Rohmer created, I recommend this film due to the craftiness and powerful ways Rohmer is able to convey dynamic meaning in “The Green Ray”.

  • Jarrett Schroederus

    I thought the green ray was an interesting movie. When i first viewed it in class i got a bit annoyed by how much the Delphine cried, but when you think about it, movies never really take the time to show you how much emotion characters might actually feel in whatever their situation is. Delphine felt alone and lost, and that’s got to be incredibly frustrating when everyone around you seems to have an easier time, and she just doesn’t know what it is that she wants so she cant really even begin to look for it. You can see this especially in the scene Delphine is on the beach with soo many people. Its one of the most depressing scenes i have ever seen because she seems extremely isolated yet at the same time people are all around her. I thought the ending did a good job of showing she was so unsure of what she wanted as well, because she basically uses the green ray as a sign to herself that the path she just got on is the right one with this new guy.

  • Maygan Braddy

    Let me start by saying that I got a good kick out of the photograph of the ale with the movie.
    Moving on with Rohmer’s “The Green Ray,” I thought this film captivated me in a special way. Although Delphine’s character really irritated, what seemed to be, the entire class, her exact nature spoke to me in volumes. I can really relate to the problems that she had(without expressing it in that exact way). Her anxiousness, communicated by her antsy mannerisms, shows the viewer her true personality; Her feeling of being alone, and at the same time, her feeling of being surrounded by unfamiliar people, really put her on edge. I understand the type of person she is, and can empathize with her, as I watch her struggle with others and herself throughout the entire film. Personally, I sometimes find myself feeling the exact same way at times, so no, I did not hate her character. Her difficulties and worries are actual complications that people live with and experience daily. Fortunately, the ending had shown some light on her character when she finally met a man who was willing to just sit and listen to her. That, and also her seeing the green ray for the very first time, bringing tears of happiness to her eyes, really touched my heart. Despite the abrupt ending to the film, I very much enjoyed watching.

    Also, thanks to this film and your class, I am determined to witness the green ray while viewing sunsets this summer. So thanks!

  • Pawel Wiech

    In my opinion, Rohmer’s film “The Green Ray” is a perfect picture of loneliness. The role of Delphine played by Marie Riviere is very realistic and can really allow us to feel how sad and lonely Delphine was. I think that although her behavior could be seen as annoying, she had some causes to behave in that way. Also I think that she was so unhappy because she wanted to find true love. And most of those encountered people in her journeys wanted to enjoy company of each other. However, when she met the guy in the train and eventually decided to see the green ray with him, she felt kind of happy. Moreover, when she cried in the very end of the film, after seeing green ray, she was happy, and that can show us that she finally found what she was looking for. The green ray might have been a good omen for her.

  • emina nesust

    I enjoyed the ending because it definitely emphasized the meaning of the whole film.Throughout the film, I was frustrated with the main character, Delphine, because I couldn’t figure her out. I wondered if the breakup with her boyfriend caused her to act the way she did, or if she was just naturally like that. I didn’t understand why she forced herself to go on each mini vacation when she obviously didn’t enjoy them. She didn’t want to go alone, yet she rejected all the people around her. Finally, towards the end of the film, she explains herself to a man she had just met as she was heading home. She tells him a bit of her past, and her logic on why she’d rather be alone, than with certain people. I thought that was really powerful, not just as content in this movie, but in general. After she spoke those words, my frustration with her character disappeared. I became intrigued with her, and it really made me think deep about her character. The ending just emphasized that even more.

  • Esho Youkhana

    “The Green Ray” directed Eric Rohmer is a film I enjoyed watching, but at certain times I kept questioning many aspects of the film. The film’s dialogue/screenplay is ridiculous because there is so much of it but they are very important. Rohmer made sure every word that came out of the actor’s mouth meant something to film and it was not just useless blabbering. The screenplay is witty and the characters are usually criticizing each other or other things. The dialogue part of the film were so long like I have never seen before and it was almost pissing me off. However, I do understand why Eric Rohmer sets up the dialogue like the way he does. He wants the viewers to feel exactly what Delphine feels when they are talking to her, and he wants the viewer to feel the awkward moments she experiences. The flow of conversation flows like water through the film and I believe its an important piece to the masterpiece. For the overall film, I believe its about the psychology of a human being and Rohmer shows it off by putting Delphine in many new situations and with many new people. Everyone is trying to fix her problem by pushing her to do certain things, and it is just getting worse for Delphine. Delphine keeps trying to persuade herself that she is going to be okay but she is just numbing her real problem. The random tears just keep flowing during the film because she is not getting down to her problem. People constantly criticize her and just give her solutions to her problem, instead of actually sitting down and hearing her out. Finally, in the end a guy finally just listens to her and does not push her far like other characters. We see that something is finally going right for her because the guy at the train stations actually just listens to her and does not just command her to stop crying. She quickly connects with him because he is gentle with her and does not just try to solve her problems quickly. It was a very enjoyable film overall.

  • Danyal Tanweer

    I feel the “green ray” is an honest look at a character who symbolizes the struggle we all have to find love. At some point I must admit it was pretty exaggerated with the constant crying but it still invoked a lot of emotion. The people around her could not understand how she felt because they were just looking for a quick fling. Having a fling and looking for true love are two totally different things. At first I thought it was odd why delphine kept running away from social encounters but towards the end I started to realize. She was looking for deeper meaning and did not want to have a quick fling like the people around her. By having her friends cat calling men it pretty much is an invite for a quick fling. That is why on the train I believe she gave the man on the train a chance. It wasn’t a cat call, instead it was a totally random encounter therefore she must have felt that this could be her shot at true love. I liked the ending and can understand why the director went through so much trouble with it. The slow sunset and changing color is like a symbol of the attentive gentle man she has finally found who in her eyes is a good shot at true love.

  • Monica Ascencio

    I prefer the original title “The Green Ray” over “Summer,” but I do agree how easily one would assume that the film be a science fiction movie. Introducing the film as “Summer” takes away from the meaning of the whole masterpiece. Especially if one isn’t placing all their attention on the screen at its final moments, one would completely miss the green ray and be left clueless of the entire message that he film is illustrating.
    Part of understanding the film is understanding Delphine. One does not need to agree with her actions or with the way she goes about her journey of moving on; but, understand her thought process. It’s obvious Delphine overthinks everything. It takes no effort to quickly begin to judge her and get frustrated with her crying but she’s hurting. She needed the time to move on, learn, and start a new. There shouldn’t be a right or wrong way to examine our own emotions or have a time limit on it. Maybe I’m bias and sympathize with Delphine because I’m aware of my fault to overthink also. It’s hard to ignore and move on when subconsciously you can’t stop thinking about certain things.
    I enjoyed “The Green Ray” because it reminded me I’m not the only person who overthinks to massive proportions.

  • Jelan P

    Did not get a chance to see film, I will add my comments soon.

  • Roza Pirsch

    The film “The Green Ray” directed by Eric Rohmer was a masterpiece when it came to showing the European weather. The lighting paired with on site sounds created a realistic feel of the location. Watching this made me nostalgic, the director perfectly portrayed the atmosphere of Europe during summer time. This movie also exhibited loneliness to a deeper level, for example when the main character Delphine is surrounded by a crowd of people at the beach she tries to mimic their behavior. In this scene its ironic being in a crowd and yet being completely alone at the same time. I enjoyed the aesthetics of the movie however i did not enjoy the acting.

  • Narmina Sada

    Watching this film, I truly felt for the character and couldn’t help but sense she was lost. Although, hearing her cry numerously would make anyone want to slap her, it really emphasized her loneliness. She wants more out of life and cant help but feel like she’s not getting it. Her fiends definitely don’t help by highlighting her problems and basically insisting that she is depressed. Social anxiety was definitely present, so strong that I felt anxiety as she wanted to run away from the new group of people she met. Hey, a good ending to me is always a plus, although it wasn’t the easiest movie to understand, it wasn’t the hardest. I definitely feel like the green ray at the end was her reassurance in life that everything would be okay. She was getting signs of green and it almost put her mind to rest. It as if that’s all she ever waited for. I enjoyed watching the different characters as they are all out-going and understand each other while you see poor Delphine, total outsider, almost a little child-like and innocent, trying to be understood in a world of people she doesn’t belong too. Loved seeing the different places she went to, even though she didn’t enjoy them, I almost imagined what I would have done if I went to any of those locations, probably enjoy myself and the atmosphere. Director shined a light on the flaws in life and in emotions many want to ignore or don’t show.

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