This Thursday at 7 PM Block Cinema at Northwestern University will screen The Sign of Leo, the 1960 feature debut by master French director Eric Rohmer. It’s one of the most obscure of the early French New Wave films and, along with the 1993 comedy The Tree, the Mayor, and the Media Center, the Rohmer film that’s hardest to see in this country. Needless to say, this rare revival is well worth checking out.
Rohmer gets characterized as a genteel filmmaker because his characters often engage in long, civil conversations. But the worldview expressed by his films was hardly a rosy one. His work, like Jane Austen’s, regularly reveals pleasant conversation to be a mask for messier, distinctly ungenteel feelings. Even in his sunniest films (such as Summer, which Block will screen on Friday at 7 PM), characters undermine each other constantly, and their spiky behavior produces a fascinating tension with the director’s offhand style.