By Daniel Barnes
Shot on a shoestring and never released theatrically, the 60-minute featurette Suzanne’s Career is the sort of technically abysmal early effort that most professional filmmakers would look to bury, as Tarantino did with My Best Friend’s Birthday. The film was clearly shot without live sound, and the overdubbing is terrible; even worse, the images in several sequences are drastically underexposed, and overall Suzanne’s Career looks more like amateur vacation footage than the young work of a major director.
Of course, only a few films into the festival it has already become evident that Rohmer’s strengths are not visual but rather schematic. Like the rest of his “Six Moral Tales,” Suzanne’s Career concerns a shy and repressed man who is tempted by another woman, but Rohmer’s real fascination is with the line between inaction and moral decision. The ineffable mystery of Rohmer’s films, the sly twist that is the sum result of all that ponderous and self-indulgent talk-talk-talkiness, springs from the unexpected and often subversive ways in which those moral choices are presented and resolved.
In Suzanne’s Career, the painfully weak-willed Bertrand is such a shrinking violet that the film is nearly a quarter over before we realize he’s our narrator and protagonist. We get the impression that Bertrand narrates the picture only because he is too spineless to speak his mind out loud. He is best friends with Guillaume, a brash and spoiled cad who uses Bertrand as a pawn to bed girls. Bertrand finds these conquests, including a sweet and simple career girl named Suzanne, “not worthy” of his friend, showing a puppy-dog admiration for the aggressive Guillaume that will have moral consequences when some money goes missing.
Guillaume beds Suzanne (“after bowing to convention, he rushed to her”), who clings to his aloofness, and thus begins a subtle series of shifting affections and emotional retaliations, with Bertrand too inert not to get caught in the middle. At the beginning of Suzanne’s Career, Bertrand informs us that he lives at the towering Hotel L’Observatoire, but for all of his quiet watchfulness, he observes nothing until it’s too late.