DVD Review: A Summer’s Tale (1996, dir. Eric Rohmer)

MV5BMjE3MjUyMDAwOF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMjM4MTk4MTE@._V1_SY317_CR0,0,214,317_AL_[A Summer’s Tale is now available on DVD via Big World Pictures]

Review by Jay Clarke

It’s hard to imagine a movie more apparently unassuming than Eric Rohmer’s A Summer’s Tale (released in France in 1996, coming to DVD in the US on November 18). Walks are taken, the sun shines, meals are eaten, a guitar is strummed, a bit of drama finally rises up but then falls beneath the waves. It feels less like a movie and more like a breezy conversation you’ve accidentally walked in on.

And so it would be easy to assume that the third of Rohmer’s “Tales of the Four Seasons” has little to it beyond the sun-blasted sand and rolling grass hills of the northwest French coast. Like most of Rohmer’s work however, there are always deeper forces just below the surface—the struggle of identity, of male and female relationships, of owning one’s own desire, of honor, fate and circumstance.

Gaspard (Melvil Poupard), a recent graduate in mathematics and an aspiring musician, arrives at a seaside Breton town for a quick vacation and to meet his sort-of girlfriend Lena (Aurelia Nolin). While waiting for the flighty object of his desire, Gaspard befriends a local waitress, Margot (Amanda Langlet, making a return appearance after Rohmer’s Pauline at the Beach), who makes it clear she is interested in Gaspard’s friendship but nothing more. Margot suggests that Gaspard pursue Soléne, a sensual, direct woman who is interested in Gaspard but only if he commits to her exclusively. When Lena finally shows up, Gaspard is forced to decide among the three women. Margot is the best choice for him, the only one that lets him truly be himself, but because she is devoted to her absent boyfriend and because he refuses to take any chance without assurances, their obvious attraction goes unfulfilled.

And that’s basically it. No gnashing of teeth, no rending of clothes. These are smart, young people with more life ahead of them than behind. No reason to get so worked up over the opposite sex. Still, there’s a creeping suspicion that despite their age and the seemingly endless possibilities that their lives could take, the walls are slowly closing in. At one point, in tears, Lena says to Gaspard “I am not prepared to give anyone, anyone at all, the slightest bit of my freedom.” While Lena comes off as self-centered and outright cruel, she’s speaking here to a fear each woman shares—men will try to control them because they cannot control themselves.

If there’s a grand theme in the movie, and it was a grand theme in much of Rohmer’s work, it’s that men do not take risks. They do not offer all and because they want a contingency plan for love, they are ultimately cowards. Of course, this stings the romantic Gaspard. He wants to live by honor and truth but doesn’t see how his indecision has created his fate. Ah, but he’s young and there’s time. With the easy passing of each day, Rohmer seems to say that yes, there is still time, right until time runs out.

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