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Conte d’été (A Summer’s Tale)

Posted by martinteller on November 7, 2013

Gaspard (Melvil Poupard) is a young man, vacationing in Dinard to meet up with his girlfriend Lena (Aurelia Nolin).  However, Lena hasn’t shown up yet.  Gaspard strikes up a friendship with Margot (Amanda Langlet), a waitress/ethnographer.  The two have a natural rapport, but with Margot waiting for her lover to return from Brazil, the promise of romance fails to materialize.  Then he meets Solene (Gwenaëlle Simon), an attractive and alluring — but also elusive and demanding — young woman.  And finally, Lena arrives, running hot and cold, at times seemingly indifferent to spending time with Gaspard.  Now he’s torn between his attraction to all three women.

Whenever I watch Rohmer, I always have a hard time crafting the review in my head.  Mostly I just end up wanting to compare him to Ozu.  Like Ozu, he works in a specific idiom, approaching very similar scenarios from different angles, over and over again (and both directors use like-titled films, although in Rohmer’s case they are deliberately grouped into series).  And despite this returning to familiar ground, he seems to find worthwhile material.  Gaspard seems like a familiar Rohmer character, a somewhat clueless guy who doesn’t know he’s clueless… and yet he also feels different.  It’s interesting to watch how he interacts differently with each woman.  With Solene, he’s hesitant and uncertain, letting her force of will dictate the action.  With Lena, he’s surly and entitled, slighted by her lack of attention.  And at first with Margot, he’s almost comically self-assured, defining himself with a series of inflexible traits, “I don’t do so-and-so” and “I always am such-and-such”.  But ultimately he develops a natural, easy rapport with her, and she seems clearly seems to be the best match for him.  Whether or not that pans out, however, I won’t say.

And also like Ozu, Rohmer works in a very stripped-down style.  He relies on the splendor of the surroundings, not the cinematography (although capturing natural beauty without overtly calling attention to it is a cinematographic feat in itself), to define the visual beauty of the film.  He sets aside fancy camera tricks and lets the actors do the work.  And the actors work, you can sense that every movement, intonation and expression is carefully considered.  As with Ozu, there is a feeling that subtle depths are hidden, waiting to reveal themselves with careful viewing.

To complete the Ozu comparison, Rohmer is a director whose films almost never catch fire with me.  But I keep watching more and more, because the odds tell me that even though they’re never new favorites, they’re almost always worth the time.  I understand why some cinephiles get fanatical about him even if I don’t share that level of enthusiasm.  In his devotion to exploring a particular theme, Rohmer seems to be almost an expert on love and relationships, doubt and flaws and the perils of communication.  Maybe it’s not the brand of special that quite pushes my buttons, but it is something special.

I realize I’ve said little about this particular movie, and to be honest I don’t have a lot to say.  I found it to be one of Rohmer’s most compelling films, with characters who feel especially genuine… not too perfect, and not too messed up.  Just folks trying to figure who they are and what they want.  Rating: Very Good (85)


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