Suzanne’s Career (1963)

Directed by Eric Rohmer

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In Suzanne’s Career, Rohmer focuses on a combination of love, lust and infatuation to get to the heart of why people suck sometimes.  “Love,” and the feelings, both positive and negative, that surround such a pursuit are great ways to shed a light into someone’s psyche, to see what makes them tick, what makes them insecure, and what they resort to when things don’t go so well.

In this case, the story follows two friends, Guillaume and Bertrand, as well as Suzanne, a woman who bounces between the two of them.  Guillaume is bold, selfish and egotistical.  He pulls Suzanne, made to be a career-oriented girl at the start, into his orbit, and between multiple break ups and reunions, she is always somewhat under his spell.  Bertrand is the character we see all of this through.  In voice over, he tells us about his disdain for Guillaume’s habit of seducing insecure, not “traditionally beautiful,” women, and when Suzanne falls prey to Guillaume’s seduction, Bertrand spreads his disdain to her as well.  It might be that he’s in love with her, or it might be his frustration with his Guillaume’s repeated success in these exploits.  It might just be that Guillaume, silent and reserved, wishes he were more like Bertrand.

Guillaume’s behavior is frustrating, and Suzanne’s behavior becomes just as infuriating.  She succumbs to his charm, then retreats when he turns his back on her, but when he offers her any signs of affection, she buys in completely.  Once Bertrand spends so much time obsessing over their relationship, he begins to seem equally as infuriating.

These characters are obsessed in their own, small worlds, and they bring each other down.  At one point, fed up with Suzanne’s gullibility, Guillaume and Bertrand agree to try and mooch off her, taking her up on offers to pay for them, whether for meals, entertainment, etc.  Even once she has no money left, they refuse to help her out.  In other words, they’re assholes.

While this goes on, Bertrand has a developing, albeit lukewarm, relationship with a girl named Sophie.  She’s always on the backburner, and he is unable to give her anything emotionally as all his mental energy is spent hating Guillaume and Suzanne.

Eventually Suzanne marries another man, almost in the blink of an eye, and the film ends with Bertrand realizing that her ability to move on is the ultimate revenge.  Despite stewing in his own misery, this voice over does suggest that Bertrand partially acknowledges his shitty behavior, but Guillaume never does.

Suzanne’s Career is a coming of age story, but not like the ones I’m used to.  It’s much more negative and even painful to sit through.  None of the characters are all that likable, but their concerns feel real to that time of your life.  They’re basically teenagers (I forget their exact age), and their worries are very self-involved.  By the end of the story, Bertrand has experienced some important growth, though you’re not given any assurance that he won’t slip back into this pattern of behavior again.

The only person who seems to move on is Suzanne, and maybe Guillaume too, now that I think about it.  He mostly disappears from the narrative, but he feels like one of those guys who can go anywhere, cause a path of destruction, and never look back.  Bertrand is the one who is more introspective, but throughout the course of the film, his introspection does nothing to correct his behavior.

And Suzanne, even though she marries and seems content at the end of the story, her behavior remains flawed as well.  Her marriage is presented with some objectivity, and the guy she marries seems decent enough, but this film is called Suzanne’s CAREER, and while the first thing we learn about her is about her work and what she’s going to school for, the story ends with her sunbathing on a pier with a man who loves her but, considering how they married so quickly, hardly knows her.  Maybe this is a critique of marriage practices at the time, or maybe there’s nothing to it.

Suzanne is the only character whose situation changes.  She got to point B while the others haven’t yet, but her point B is probably the wrong point B.  The title of the film makes me think that her “career” is trying to get married.  First she falls for Guillaume, then another nameless, faceless man, then Bertrand himself, before finally marrying another stranger.  Despite having an occupation and being enrolled in school, the only thing we ever see Suzanne concern herself with is who she’ll be dating next.  Her career is getting married, and Bertrand remains haunted and obsessed with something that needn’t concern him.

The only other Rohmer film I have as of yet seen is 1983’s Pauline at the Beach.  It’s a film similarly concerned with characters’ pursuit of love and lust, and each character comes out looking worse to the audience based on those experiences.  From these two films alone, it seems like Rohmer is disenchanted with love or the real world results of ‘love.’  As an idea, it’s great, but in practice it’s rarely understood.  In his films, characters break each other and themselves down while they try to get someone who doesn’t understand them to love them.  Everyone is either jealous or naive or even a little bit of both.

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