This 1996 film has at last been given a theatrical release in the United States. It is the third in the series Tales of the Four Seasons by the late, great film director Eric Rohmer. (I have written about Rohmer previously at http://stkarnick.com/?p=4963 .) The film actually hearkens back to Rohmer’s first of his three film series, The Moral Tales, in which, in each of its six films, a man, committed to one woman meets another and has to choose.
In A Summer’s Tale, Gaspard (Melville Poupaud), a recently graduated math student, goes on a vacation before beginning work at an engineering firm. He is to meet Lena (Aurelia Nolin). Gaspard wanders around looking for her and composes music. He also meets a waitress, Margot (Amanda Langlet), who is studying for her doctorate in ethnology and waiting for her archaeologist lover to return from the South Pacific. Later, Gaspard comes to know another woman, the sexy Solene (Gwenaelle Simon). He winds up in a very difficult balancing act in what might be the stuff of farce but is handled wittily instead.
The film is a subtle, amusing character study in which what the characters think about what they do is the focus of the film. So conversation is prominent more as a revealer of character and personality than as an advancer of plot. But the film is also beautifully and effectively cinematic. Rohmer actually shows conversations; they are objects that he carefully and deliberately films. So the sense of place is of great importance. In this case the place is the coast of Brittany during the summer, a place of vacation and possibly transition for Gaspard. Music is important to him and the place affects it: he usually writes blues but, during the film, tries to compose a sea shanty for Lena.
The film presents us a Gaspard who claims he passively goes where chance takes him but also shows an ability to take advantage of a situation. He, rightly, accuses Lena of being self involved but this is also a case of the pot calling the kettle black. The feelings of these four people, all in their twenties, is on display in all their tentativeness, confusion, and contradictions. Rohmer films this emotional chaos quite unchaotically, in fact with restraint, calmness, and distance. He films his characters with respect, which is not the same thing as approval and which does not preclude irony. He neither sentimentalizes their emotions nor treats them with condescension.
A Summer’s Tale is quietly funny even though it ends on a bit of a down note. Gaspard has not grown in self knowledge nor in consideration of others. Margot is emotionally at sea. But we have been given an entertaining and mature treatment of romantic foibles of four very different people. To borrow a phrase from Ambrose Bierce, this film, indeed like all Rohmer’s films, is for those who prefer dry wine to sweet