Saturday, August 16, 2014

A Summer's Tale

Finally! After nearly twenty years! A chance to see Eric Rohmer's A Summer's Tale on the big screen!

Wait, who? What? Why do we care? Erich Rohmer was a French filmmaker (who passed in 2010), part of the La Nouvelle Vague of the '50s and '60s who, well, has his fans, but also a great many detractors even among those whom you might consider likely supporters.

Basically, he's a guy who directs talky, non-plot-driven films, and this one was part of a four film series of "seasons", that may be thematically connected but not by characters or stories (I think).

So, why do we care? Well, it's the middle of the week in a rather uninspired summer, in a year that's generally been hard to find obvious movie choices.

The first thing I noticed about it was that the title card was off. I can't remember what it said ("Summer Tale"?) but it was something not very idiomatic English. The next thing that became very apparent was that Messr. Rohmer has a distinct type.

The story is about young Gaspard (Melville Poupaud, The Broken) who's moping cluelessly around Brittany (I believe; it's somewhere on the beach in the north of France) while his not-girlfriend is tooling around Spain with her sister and his boyfriend, and maybe some other guys. He's about to start a boring engineering job in a few weeks, so this is his last vacation before he joins the real world, or at least as close as France gets to the real world.

He meets perky waitress Margot (Amanda Langlet, Pauline at the Beach, another Rohmer film from a time when it wasn't considered creepy to ogle 15-year-olds in skimpy bikinis), a doctor of some squishy social science, who is waiting on her boyfriend to come back from wherever he is. The two strike up a friendship that is decidedly sexual (without actually involving sex).

Margot doesn't think much of Gaspard's non-girlfriend, so she fixes him up with Solene (Gwenaëlle Simon) and the two hit it off. Solene's deal, though, is that if they're going to have a relationship, they're going to have a relationship, with clear boundaries and no half-in/half-out nonsense.

Gaspard's okay with is, which mysteriously pisses Margot off. She claims to be disappointed he's so easily swayed by Solene's crude aggression—and when I say "crude", here, I just mean "non-crazy"—or maybe just pissed off that he's less interested in her. I think they may even make out at this point, I can't really recall.

Just when it looks like Gaspard's going to get something going, his non-girlfriend Lena (Aurelia Nolin) shows up and throws a monkey wrench into his plans.

So sort of like a French "Three's Company".

Anyway, if Margot is coquettish, Lena is just outright nuts. Presumably dramatically more attractive than the other two (I can't really see it but I think that's the implication), she's barely interested in Gaspard. Well, at first. Then she's super-into him. Then she's pissed off at him for thinking she's into him, and dumps him. Then she's back, screwing with his plans again.

This is basically your movie, then. The hopelessly beta Gaspard being buffeted around by women.

It's not unpleasant. I mean, if it's not your sort of thing—long walks through the countryside and boat rdies off northern France—this isn't going to change your mind about talky movies. (Like My Dinner With Andre might, for example.) But the characters are likable, really, even if you want to slap Gaspard around a little bit.

Young people are kind of clueless, especially about romance. That's why we used to marry 'em off at 13.

But the point is, Gaspard is clueless in exactly the way young men tend to be clueless. He's attracted to Margot, but she's taken (despite the mixed signals). He's attracted to, but somewhat intimidated by Solene. And he idealizes, to an absurd degree, Lina. To the extent where he'll let her mess up his life with her capriciousness. I can't really fault the accuracy here.

Still, it's not the sort of thing that's going to ignite your toes. Unless, perhaps, you share Rohmer's taste in women: elfin, small-breasted women with good child-bearing hips. You know how, about 5 minutes into a Russ Meyer film, an alert viewer will think, "Good heavens, I believe the director has a taste for inordinately large mammary glands?" Well, by the time Solene shows up, I began to suspect a similar preference (if not exactly fetish). In fact, I did a little research after seeing this movie, to confirm this and, yes, this was the sort of body type Mr. Rohmer preferred, I feel confident in saying.

Nothing wrong with it. Just amusing. Dream-girl Lina has slightly larger breasts (though still not large) than the other two, and I wasn't sure if that was a coincidence or meant to be a marker of her greater beauty.

You know, the most remarkable thing about this film may be that Rohmer was in his mid-to-late 70s when he made it, and yet he had a keen memory (or eye) for the behavior of people 50 years his junior.

The Boy liked it. And I think we both liked that it wasn't depressing or nihilistic, unlike what we commonly associated with French New Wave. Just don't expect a lot of fireworks.

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