Eric Rohmer has received warm praise from some critics and kudos from others for My Night at Maud's, Claire's Knee, and La Collectionneuse. His film, Chloe in the Afternoon, is the final one in a cycle that he titles "Six Moral Tales." Each story revolves around a man who must choose between two women usually one to whom he is committed and another to whom he is attracted. Rohmer's literary sensibilities are on regal display here, and the camera work of Nestor Almendros is superb.
Frederic (Bernard Verley) is a rather traditional member of the middle class. His chilly wife Helene (Francoise Verley) is a professor. They spend their evenings like students. On the train to work in Paris, Frederic reads to give himself a lift. In the late afternoon, he takes breaks girl-watching on the streets. Noting, "Since I've been married, I find all women beautiful," Frederic tries to sublimate his desire to escape from the trap of marriage.
One day Chloe (Zouzou), the girl friend of his best friend from the past, intrudes into his life. Just returned from New York and other places, she lives an impulsive, sensual, and erratic life. She makes Frederic awkward at first but gradually intrigues him and then absorbs his interest. They spend many afternoons together discussing her inability to keep a job, her gloomy view of life, and her need to be consoled. The arrangement works out well for Frederic since it cures his afternoon anxiety and gives his drab life an exotic touch.
The story proceeds with grace until Frederic is forced to make a decision regarding his sexual loyalty to Helene. Along the way to that moral choice, Rohmer plays upon the lute of Frederic's desire, imagination, and ego. The tug-of-war between his physical cravings and his marital devotion is the central tension of the film. Bernard Verley, looking like a haggard Teddy Kennedy, is just right as Frederic, and Zouzou brings off her role with quirky enchantment. Chloe in the Afternoon is the final jewel in Rohmer's six-piece set.