Sign of Leo, The (1962)

Rohmer’s first feature might not have been as lauded as his counterparts’ more groundbreaking works, but its exploration of luck (or lack thereof) through one man’s misery was arguably the closest a French New Wave film had been to acknowledging its neorealist influences.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Review #2,113

Dir. Eric Rohmer
1962 | France | Drama | 103 mins | 1.66:1 | French
Not rated – likely to be PG13

Cast: Jess Hahn, Michele Girardon, Van Doude
Plot: In anticipation of an inheritance from a recently deceased aunt, a Paris-based American, born under the sign of Leo and confident that luck is on his side, freely wracks up debts only to find himself in dire straits when his windfall fails to materialize.
Awards: –
Source: Les Films du Losange

Accessibility Index
Subject Matter: Moderate – Poverty, Luck, Fate

Narrative Style: Straightforward
Pace: Slightly Slow
Audience Type: Slightly Arthouse

Viewed: MUBI
Spoilers: No

Having explored quite a fair bit of Eric Rohmer, I realised I haven’t gone back to see his first feature, The Sign of Leo, made at the beginning of the French New Wave. 

Although it might not have been as lauded as his counterparts’ more groundbreaking works—such as Godard’s Breathless (1960), Truffaut’s The 400 Blows (1959) or Resnais’ Hiroshima mon amour (1959), to name a few, Rohmer’s film was arguably the closest a Nouvelle Vague picture had been to acknowledging its neorealist influences. 

One could, for instance, draw a ‘moodboard’ reference to Bicycle Thieves (1948), in its abject depiction of poverty as a sullen man, Pierre (Jess Hahn in a captivating performance), traverses the streets of his town, aimless and dignity lost. 

Prematurely accumulating a mounting debt after learning that he would be the recipient of his rich late aunt’s inheritance which unfortunately doesn’t go to him, Pierre loses all sense of hope.  With his friends away on overseas trips, there is no one he can turn to for shelter and food, wearing him down psychologically. 

The Sign of Leo is unlike any film Rohmer has ever done—his trademark conversational style of filmmaking is not at all evident; neither is his preoccupation with themes of romance and desire that characterise his later works. 

Here, he explores the theme of luck (or lack thereof) as Pierre believes astrologically that he has luck on his side, only to have the rug of fate pulled under him. 

Rohmer portrays this visually, be it losing a ticket stub, or having a shoe split open, and much more, all to a recurring dissonant solo violin that sounds rather familiar—might it have been used or did it inspire the music for Agnes Varda’s The Creatures (1966)?

Grade: B+

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