Internet Movie Database Nitrate Online Review
Contents | Features | Reviews | Books | Archives | Store
storeimg.gif (3164 bytes)
Movie Credits Buy It!

Autumn Tale

Review by David Luty
Posted 9 July 1999

  Written and Directed by Eric Rohmer

Starring Marie Rivičre, Bčatrice Romand,
Alain Libolt, Didier Sandre, Alexia Portal,
Stephane Darmon, Aurelia Alcais,
Matthieu Davette, and Yves Alcais

Autumn Tale benefits greatly from two paradoxes, and the first is writer-director Eric Rohmer. Of the original band of French New Wave revolutionaries, his narrative and visual styles are easily the least conspicuous, so much so that his work turns out to be completely distinct and recognizable. Rohmer's naturalistic films are slices of everyday life and treated precisely as such - very little of earth-shattering consequence occurs, and what does transpire is delicately handled with a carefree, matter-of-fact lightness. They are more loosely told anecdotes than carefully structured works of drama, and while his emotionally acute eye may be too modest to shatter your world, at the very least you’ll feel as if you’re getting an honest look at it.

And it's that emotional honesty which clears the way for paradox number two. Autumn Tale, the last of a quartet of season-titled Rohmer films, is a story of middle-aged adults behaving like children, in ways that are so endearing and so emotionally complex and so real that they come across as far more adult than most Hollywood grown-up characters. As usual, Rohmer is examining an aspect of love, and this time it is in the meeting place where friendship love and romantic love share a buss on the cheek. Isabelle (Marie Riviere) and Magali (Beatrice Romand) are lifelong best friends, but there’s a hole in the relationship. Magali, a fiercely independent workaholic who runs her own vineyard, is without a man. Magali feels that most of the good men are taken, and she doesn’t have a clue as how to find one of the few that may remain. Isabelle wants to help, but Magali finds her suggestion of a personal ad repulsive. Lucky for Magali, she has another close friend, her son’s girlfriend Rosine (Alexandria Portal). Rosine feels such a strong connection to Magali that she considers that relationship more defined by love than her supposedly romantic pairing with Magali’s son. So she too wants to help Magali fill her void, and she has the perfect choice -- her much older ex-boyfriend, ex-professor Etienne (Didier Sandre).

Rosine’s plan fits into Rohmer’s scheme in interesting ways, in that Rosine wants to stay friends with Etienne, but feels she cannot do so as long as he is free romantically - it’s too complicated otherwise. So for her, it’s the perfect solution, her two closest friends happy, attached, and liberated from romantic need. Even more compelling is where Rohmer takes Isabelle, as she does her own work for Magali on the sly. She places a personal ad, listing Magali’s interests and emotional characteristics as her own, and decides to find a man for Magali herself. This means actually dating one, and for a moment, it appears that Rohmer’s acuteness may have left him. Isabelle dates Gerald (Alain Libolt), and at first she shows no signs of realizing the potential complications that could come from having a man fall for the picture of one woman only to have it abruptly replaced with another. The fear is that Rohmer doesn’t realize it either, but he summarily wipes out any apprehensions as he takes the odd relationship between Isabelle and Gerald to a delightfully tricky, tangled place.

As is customary with Rohmer, he exhibits a particularly impressive interest and understanding of women, and he’s using two of his favorite actresses here. Riviere’s cool, delicate elegance finds in Isabelle some unspoken emotional complexities, while Romand embodies the earthier Magali with a touching stubbornness. Magali’s ache over living in a world where she feels aged past the prime of being attractive to men takes on an even deeper poignancy, in that Romand, in her ingenue days, played for Rohmer one of the young temptresses of Claire’s Knee twenty seven years ago. And the men are no slouches either, especially Libolt, who in dealing with both of these women displays an endearing befuddlement over what exactly he’s gotten himself into.

Rohmer expertly juggles all of these relationship balls in the air, and only increases their speed as he moves the film into its quaintly farcical set-piece, a wedding attended by all of the characters. Two women looking to help Magali find love, two men hoping, to different degrees, to provide it. Rohmer sets up a delightful situation of multiple points of view where missed communications and deeply connected communications emerge in rapid succession. As the suavely self-confident Etienne and the mousier Gerald lurk around the reception waiting to see how Magali takes to them, each unaware of the other and with Magali only aware of one, Autumn Tale reaches heights of unassumingly giddy, childlike romantic wonder that something similarly-minded like Nora Ephron’s slicker You’ve Got Mail never even approaches. And that is in spite of - or actually, because of - the latter film expending much more noticeable effort to please the audience. It is the quintessential Rohmerian paradox, from which so many Hollywood hacks could take a lesson. Less, especially in matters of the heart, truly can be more.

Be sure to read Nitrate Online's coverage at the Seattle International Film Festival.

Contents | Features | Reviews | Books | Archives | Store
Copyright © 1999 by Nitrate Productions, Inc. All Rights Reserved.  Copyright © 1996-2005 by Nitrate Productions, Inc. All Rights Reserved.