With two amateur female leads, four episodes and merely a handful of characters, The Four Adventures of Reinette and Mirabelle, directed by the late French filmmaker Éric Rohmer, offers a surprising amount of both philosophical and comical moments, making the many long dialogues between characters tolerable. The quartet of stories that make up the movie depict not only four separate episodes of rather mundane activities between two friends, Reinette and Mirabelle, but also the progression of their rather interesting friendship. What is remarkable, though, is that throughout these four episodes, Reinette and Mirabelle clash and slowly adapt to each other’s ideologies.
When the two meet each other, Mirabelle is on a trip to the French countryside — where Reinette resides each summer — in order to escape the noises and bustling lifestyle of Paris. The differences in their personalities are apparent from the moment they meet: Whereas country girl Reinette carries with her an air of naiveté and, more or less, an adventurous spirit, her counterpart, Mirabelle, could not be any more Parisian. Despite her interest in the farm life led by Reinette and her neighbors, Mirabelle regards everything around her with a nonchalant arrogance. For those acquainted with the French language, the not so subtle difference in the girls’ accents makes it clear that the two are not crafted from the same mold.
Yet, despite their differences, Reinette and Mirabelle become friends almost instantaneously as Reinette invites Mirabelle to stay for dinner. When the two approach the topic of silence, Reinette introduces Mirabelle to the idea of “The Blue Hour,” which is technically the only minute of silence early in the morning when “nature holds its breath” and the birds stop singing. It is a phenomenon Reinette believes only can exist in the countryside. The hysteria that Reinette displays as a truck ruins the couple’s first attempt to catch “The Blue Hour” renders her almost insane. However, the next morning, when the two newly minted friends hold their breaths and enjoy that precious moment where everything becomes dead silent, they share a moment of unexpected intimacy between the two. The embrace between them at the end of the scene elucidates not only an unlikely mutual understanding between two individuals but also the beginning of a companionship that is clearly not based on similar ideology. The end of the first episode illustrates Rohmer’s theme of universality as the audience contemplates the basis of Reinette and Mirabelle’s fast-blooming friendship.
The three following chapters of the film all take place in Paris, after Reinette decides to develop her technique in painting at an art institute and move into Mirabelle’s apartment. The second chapter, titled “The Waiter,” provides a comical interim in the midst of more serious adventures. After Mirabelle gives Reinette directions to a café, the latter insists on obtaining the exact address. When that fails, Reinette’s attempt to ask passerbys for direction leads to a ridiculous argument between two Parisians that reflects the sheer idiocy of the situation. Even after Reinette arrives at the café, the self-important waiter informs Reinette that she needs to have exact change for her café and refuses to accept her two-hundred-franc bill. The two girls’ escape from the end of the café and the waiter’s reaction is probably the funniest moment in the film.
It is at the end of the second chapter of the film that the paradoxes and contradictions in the relationship between Reinette and Mirabelle begin. After the debate over how to treat the waiter from chapter two, the girls go on to philosophize charity and vigilantism in chapter three. Mirabelle, after trying to convince Reinette that her four-franc cup of coffee was not worth going back to the café to return the money, argues that it is impossible for her to give to every beggar. Her actions here reflect the irony and hypocrisy in her logic as she refuses to give a few francs to the beggars. In a later scene, Mirabelle makes the point that “you cannot accuse a person whose motives you don’t understand,” while Reinette advocates acts of vigilantism that seem to contradict her saying that “adults are responsible for their actions.” All the philosophical questions arise in the movie without much action — they really happen as a result of the characters’ ordinary experiences. That is the magic of Rohmer’s film: Reinette and Mirabelle could be any two friends whose lives converge, bettering both of them as a result.
At the end, the audience is offered more questions than answers as Rohmer incorporates philosophical topics — ranging from friendship to innocence versus cynicism to responsibilities over one's’ actions. Jessica Forde’s Mirabelle displays a perfect Parisian mindset, all the while preserving the character’s inner intensity; Joëlle Miquel portrays a Reinette who is both convincingly naïve yet in her own way both adamant and mischievous. The film is as much a loss of innocence story for the characters as it is a suggestion of an ordinary life with a much-heightened sense of excitement for the audience. Like in many other French films, much of the drama of the film occurs through dialogue and not action. To learn to appreciate such a film is definitely an acquired taste, but given the laughter and questions with which it provided me, I would suggest it to Francophiles or cinephiles alike.