Eric Rohmer is one of the lesser known French New Wave directors. In fact when I was researching this film and this director, I noticed that I had not seen any of his films before. This shocked me. It shocked me not just because I consider French New Wave one of my favorite periods in cinema, but also because The Bakery Girl of Monceau seemed so familiar to me. It was familiar to me because it fit so neatly into the conventions of the French New Wave aesthetic. But at the same time, I felt like I was discovering a facet of a director I had watched before discover something new about his vision.
The Bakery Girl of Monceau is a short film that Rohmer completed in the early sixties. It is about a law student who walks with his friend every day at the same time through a park and the outlining shops. On this walk, he falls in love with a tall blonde woman who must live in the neighborhood. One day he summons up the courage to “meet cute” with her by bumping into her. They talk for a brief moment and then she is gone. Gone for quite a while in fact. The man searches for her at the same time everyday, careful to not disturb his studies. While he is on his search, he starts to frequent a bakery where a cute young girl works behind the counter. He flirts and buys a number of pastries while still having her sights set on this mystery woman. It finally comes down to him asking out the bakery girl. She is hesitant at first, but she accepts. However on his way to the date, he bumps into the mystery blonde girl. She reveals a sprained ankle but also that she lives directly across the street from the bakery. She tells him that she has been spying on him. He boldly asks her out and they go off together, leaving the bakery girl all alone at the restaurant.
Rohmer gives us a glimpse into the law student’s mind. He knows that he is taking advantage of a naive girl who doesn’t know better. He sees it as something to amuse himself with while he waits for his studies to be over the year or at least until his mystery girl comes back. Giving us this insight into his behavior does not excuse it in Rohmer’s eyes. Although the law student never get retribution for his behavior, he nonetheless feels uneasy when he enters the bakery a year later with his now wife. The knowledge of his deed makes him anxious, but he could never tell his wife exactly what went down during that time. It would give him too much shame. But the fact of the matter is that men do that to women all the time and vice versa. Sometimes it is done unconsciously, but most of the time it is just a game to the person who is trying to manipulate the person’s feelings. In fact although it may be engrossing to the two parties that are involved, usually it is seen as boring to the outsiders because it is so common. But Rohmer finds the drama in the mundane. He is able to bore into the existence of seemingly ordinary people and find something worth putting on the screen. In both Godard and Truffaut’s first films, they elevated normal people into dramatic situations. But with Rohmer, he kept the ordinary people right where they were and still found something interesting to say.