An attractive young woman named Marion (Arielle Dombasle) has retreated to her brother’s house in Normandy for a late summer holiday to await the finalization of her divorce. One day, accompanied by her charming adolescent cousin, Pauline (Amanda Langlet), Marion encounters her former lover, a quiet and pensive young man named Pierre (Pascal Greggory) on the beach, and is introduced to his confident and free-spirited acquaintance, Henri (Feodor Atkine). While spending a quiet evening at home with friends, Marion expresses her romantic ideals of falling in love completely and intensely, a sentiment that encourages Pierre to later reveal his own unrequited feelings for her at a dance hall. But Marion’s earlier words prove to be contrary to her actions, as she recoils from Pierre’s passionate declaration, rationalizing that such profound emotion, like her impulsive, ill fated marriage, would only lead to an equally disastrous end. Despite better judgment, Marion instead finds herself falling for the cavalier and opportunistic Henri. However, as Marion needlessly attempts to conceal her relationship with Henri from Pierre, and Henri, in turn, continues to flout his affair with Marion by seducing a candy vendor (Rosette), the perceptive Pauline becomes an ambivalent and puzzled witness to the irrationality of adult relationships.
Pauline at the Beach is a witty, unassuming, and acutely observant film on the inconstancy of human relationships and the dilemma of adolescent sexuality. The film is the third installment in Eric Rohmer’s Comedies and Proverbs, a series of six films that wryly, but compassionately, examine the moral ambiguity and conflicted guidance of young people in contemporary society. By exposing the hypocrisy and duplicity of the adults in Pauline’s life, Rohmer exposes the pervasive narcissism and selfishness of the older generation that invariably reflect in the young heroine’s uncertainty over the direction of her own emotional maturity. As Pauline finds herself abandoned by the capricious Marion alone on the beach, she is literally pulled into the conflicting moral attitudes of Pierre and Henri, as her entrusted care becomes a source of animosity between the two men. Inevitably, neither ideology can reconcile Pauline’s awkward and uncertain transition into the social interactions of the adult world.
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