In some ways, Rohmer is like a French version of Woody Allen in his Bergmanesque period. His films tend to be gently theatrical, and his characters pontificate on the nature of love and life, yet the results are almost always compelling to watch. The plots, such as they are, tend to be bittersweet - nearly but not quite romantic dramas. At times they appear like sex comedies, but that would not be a complete description - the sex is almost incidental to the main themes, as it is here.
What makes them stand out is the beautiful and subtle way Rohmer has crafted the cinematic experience. Unlike most modern films, the director does not pander to his audience through simplistic debates of good vs evil, but instead uses emotions to illustrate the motivation of his characters. He uses a full palate of shades and hues to demonstrate the paradoxes, complexities and confusions that occur in real life. And the double-crossing, infidelity and lies, of course.
Pauline sur la plage is typical. One of his Comedies and Proverbs series, it shows 15-year old Pauline staying for a holiday at the beach in Britanny with her cousin, Marion, who is about to divorce. And Pauline's naive views about love are challenged by their time together. They meet Marion's friend and former lover Pierre, and also Pierre's peripatetic friend Henri. Marion rejects Pierre and falls for Henri, and also rejects his advice that Henri is "diabolical". But an act of betrayal by Henri implicates Pauline's friend Sylvain and threatens all the relationships. Rohmer conducts the emotional angst as if he were conducting an orchestra. The hurt is raw, yet the final denouement is not unhappy. The director leaves Pauline - and us - with a fine balance between the philosophies of Henri and Marion, a dilemma unresolved yet richly satisfying. You wonder how Pauline decides between the two paths, but somehow it would spoil the illusion to find out.