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The 2010 Glen Workshop In Santa Fe, NM

Summer / The Green Ray
Movie Poster for Carl Theodor Dreyer's Ordet
Directed by Éric Rohmer
Produced by Margaret Ménégoz
Written by Éric Rohmer
Marie Rivière
Music by Jean-Louis Valéro
Cinematography by Sophie Maintigneux
Editing by María Luisa García
Release Date 1986
Running Time 98 min.
Language French
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Summer / The Green Ray
(Le Rayon Vert)

The Green Ray (sometimes known as “Summer” due to a quirk in its American distribution) is one of Eric Rohmer’s more personal films. His films are typically about vaguely distressed individuals coming to terms with themselves through a moral or emotional crisis. Rohmer’s indirect style lets us follow them during these periods as disconnected observers. Similarly, most of The Green Ray is involved with cataloging Delphine’s issues, which we have plenty of time to explore during her terminally awkward summer holiday.  

Her conversations with others often devolve into persnickety defenses of her personal quirks. She doesn’t seem interested in things like beach volleyball, relaxing at ski resorts, or letting guys make passes at her in the discotheque. It begins to dawn on Delphine that her tearful restlessness may just be symptomatic of a deeper species of gloom, one that has no solution in place or person.  

Delphine eventually stumbles across a plan in the form of the strange atmospheric condition known as “The Green Ray.” By eavesdropping in a random conversation, she hears about how Jules Verne used this fleeting event as the title to one of his novels. This conversation describes how the green ray is the last spectrum of refraction that sometimes occurs when the rays of the setting sun hit the curvature of the earth just right—immediately before the sun drops beneath the horizon it will flash vibrantly green just for an instant. According to Verne, those lucky enough to see this happen will also for that moment be granted supernatural clarity into their own hearts and the hearts of those around them. 

Delphine realizes that this sort of clarity is exactly what she has been looking for. She needs just a glimmer of certainty about herself and a companion, just one moment in which she can safely align herself with something other than loneliness. And eventually it happens. She meets a man in the Biarritz train station, and on an uncharacteristic whim, Delphine joins him on the next train out of town. They stand together facing the sea at sunset. They wait as the sun slowly drops towards the distant water. We wait with them. And then it happens. 

Rohmer reportedly waited quite a long time until he could actually catch the green ray on film. If he couldn’t actually find the atmospheric conditions at the right time with his camera rolling, then the film wouldn’t have worked. Or else the film would have ended with Delphine never finding that magical moment that Rohmer had so studiously prepared for her.  

In the scope of Rohmer’s filmography, the fact that he commits to resolving the crisis of one of his characters through such a magical, numinous, and overtly literary moment is stunning. To one of his clearest emotional studies he appends an equally provocative, almost transcendental, solution. 

—Michael Leary

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