By David Clark - February 7-14, 1996

During a Parisian run of the children's play Sleeping Beauty, actress Clara Bellar endured the ridicule of her fellow actors when she sent a letter to Eric Rohmer, inviting him to come to the show. "Everybody thought I was mad to send an invitation to such an important person and that he would never come," she says. But it was a dumbfounded group of actors that saw Rohmer actually turn up. For French actress Clara Bellar, this was the turning point in her career. Her subsequent meetings with the impressed Rohmer led to her cowriting and starring in the first part of his portmanteau film Rendez-vous in Paris.

Bellar relates this story as if she still can't get over the surprise of it all. A dark-haired, softly-spoken 23-year-old, Clara was just 20 when her part of the film was shot. Rendez-vous explores relationships through three separate stories involving people meeting in Paris; like Rohmer's earlier work, it is extremely naturalistic in style. There are no great dramas, no complicated camerawork, not even any incidental music. But in common with the 74-year-old director's My Night With Maud, it has an unaffected charm which his small but loyal audience will undoubtedly enjoy.

Clara's part in the film was drawn mainly from her own experience, and the character she plays is very much like herself when the film was made. "Eric is a vampire," she says. "When I saw the film, two years after the shooting, I thought, 'oh God, was I really like that?' I was really this very romantic young girl who thought that she knew all about love.

"I had told Eric two stories about what had happened to me. One of them was about me being chatted up by a young man in a market and afterwards finding my purse was gone. Eric loved this story. The second one was about a young French actor who was going out with two friends of mine and neither of them knew about the other."

So Rohmer put the two stories together. He has stated that his specific intention in Rendez-vous was to make a film with actors just starting out in movies. "Eric likes being surrounded by young people," says Bellar. "He also likes the idea of giving a chance to young people because he's famous and he has power."

"Working with young people is the way he stays young. He's like a little boy. He's very enthusiastic and when he works he has lots of energy. But he likes to take his time when filming. He makes films for fun and doesn't want to be in a hurry."

But what is Rohmer actually like? Is he a distant and moody perfectionist? It seems not: Bellar is clearly enchanted by the enigmatic director. "He's a very, very generous person," she says. "But he never goes out for social events or to premieres, he never even goes out to dinner. He doesn't like being interviewed and he doesn't like his picture taken because he wants to be free when he's working in the street. But he's someone you can always rely on if you need something. He's very discreet, but he's there, and he's a very loyal man."

Bellar's part in the film has already been well-received by critics and it has brought her to the attention of other actors and directors. "I'd love to make films in English," she says enthusiastically. "At the moment, I'm talking about making a film in Britain with Michael Maloney. It's called Romance and Rejection." Then adds, with a flash of the girlish romanticism that she insists she has outgrown, "Isn't that a wonderful title?"

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