It is summertime and what eye specialist Adrien (Patrick Bauchau) really wants to do is get away from it all - work, relationships, all that jazz, and truly relax. He seizes the opportunity to do so when he is invited over to St Tropez and a summer house of his friend Daniel (Daniel Pommereulle) who is staying there with a few friends, though they will not be hanging around. Just as well when they espouse such theories as ugly people are lesser human beings than attractive people and being around them makes them sick; fortunately for Adrien he is quite good looking, but he is bemused at best by these privileged young people's prejudices. However, that season of doing nothing is foiled when a certain something happens along...
La Collectioneuese, or The Collector in English (not to be confused with the contemporaneous thriller starring Terence Stamp), was the first of writer and director Eric Rohmer's works to break through internationally, though My Night With Maud a couple of years later would make more of an impact and establish his loyal following across the world of cineastes. His style was already honed by over a decade of sorting out what he wanted from his output and what he wished to examine, which was basically the relationships of younger people who think they are smart yet prove not to be as smart as the watchful eye of Rohmer's camera which keenly, often warmly, assessed them and their quirks and foibles.
Some could accuse him of essentially making the same film over and over with slight variations in each, and there were similarities in that cool, lightly detached, wryly amused demeanour that was put over in every production, heck, every scene in fact, but he was not so consistent that he could manufacture the same levels of interest in each endeavour, and this little item was not necessarily welcomed by everyone, even those who professed to be fans. The main sticking point was that no matter how attractive these three central characters thought themselves to be, the viewer would not necessarily endorse their very high opinion of themselves, and indeed find them a complete turn off from start to finish.
Now, films with unlikeable characters have a bit of trouble if they are intended to be regarded critically, since you could analyse someone's personality flaws till the cows come home but unless you are seriously dedicated to the negative in this life it's going to grow tiresome and you will be hankering after some light relief. Not so here, which in spite of its serene surface was nothing short of scathing for almost ninety minutes of screen time, as if Rohmer had been out of sorts, not helped by Adrien's near-constant narration which did its own analysis, only in the most self-serving manner possible with us listening to his ramblings noting his disconnect between his self-image and that which the object of his desire, Haydée (Haydée Politoff) actually sees him as. The old remove the beam from your own eye before criticising the mote in your brother's proverb, more or less.
Haydée, at least, was an intriguing soul, as she was the collector of the title thanks to her habit of "collecting" sexual partners which Adrien and Daniel look down on while wishing she would collect them, even if they could not quite admit it to her, or themselves really. Therefore a love triangle develops, or it would if the female corner seemed to be capable of loving these men; she is seeking after a more concrete relationship, yet does not see any prospect with these two berks, so toys with them to some extent before finally leaving the apparent countryside and beach idylls and the two men twigging that they should have approached her in a far better way than they did if they wanted to get anywhere with her. Rohmer didn't blame Haydée for leading them on, it was simply her nature to want to be found attractive, so it was up to the men to come across as in the wrong, not something the audience would have much issue with in a rather sour and patience testing film. Music by Blossom Toes, if you can hear it.
One of the directors of the French New Wave, Eric Rohmer, like his contemporaries, started his film career as a critic at the magazine Cahiers du Cinema, and after a few shorts made his first feature with Le signe du lion. My Night at Maud's was his first international hit, long after the other New Wave directors had made their initial impact, and set out his style as that of the "talk piece" where his characters, often young and middle class, conversed at great length in a way that exposed various truths about life as Rohmer saw them. His works were often grouped into cycles, and included Claire's Knee, Pauline at the Beach, Le Rayon Vert and his last, made when he was in his late eighties, The Romance of Astree and Celadon.