Autumn Tale (Conte d'Automne) (France, 1998; US release 1999) *** 1/2
Directed and written by Eric Rohmer. Producers, Francoise Etchegary, Margaret Menegoz, Eric Rohmer. Photography, Diane Baratier. Editing, Mary Stephen. Cast: Marie Riviere (Isabelle), Beatrice Romand (Magali). Alain Libolt (Gerard), Didier Sandre (Etienne), Alexia Portal (Rosine), Stephane Darmon (Leo), Aurelia Alcais (Emilia), Matthieu Davette (Gregoire), Yves Alcais (Jean-Jacques). An October Films/USA Films release. In French with subtitles. 112 minutes. PG.
In the 100-plus years of cinema, the most important, influential and long-lasting "movement" (which, like Expressionism, Poetic Realism, Neorealism, etc. was not a real movement-- but I'll skip the lecture) was the French New Wave of the late 1950s and the 1960s. The best directors and writer-directors included Jean-Luc Godard, Francois Truffaut, Alain Resnais, Claude Chabrol, Jacques Rivette, Eric Rohmer. They're all unclassifiable, yet for many viewers some key words may come to mind: Godard= avant-garde, Truffaut= romantic, Resnais= thinker, Chabrol=satirist, Rivette=lengthy, Rohmer=searching.
Abroad, they are all admired film giants. In the United States, Truffaut is/was the best-known and by far the most popular; Godard, the most imitated (badly); Resnais, by now, little known; Chabrol too, though when known, entertaining for his Hitchcockisms; Rivette, hardly seen; Rohmer, beloved by specialists only.
Rohmer, born in 1920, may be even less classifiable than the others. His films are talky, as are almost all French movies, but then Rohmerian talk is the mainspring of his works, not just an adjunct or a part of them. All develop via dialogue, yet there is nothing "theatrical" about them. Oddly enough though, Rohmer, who came to cinema through literature, is, in original ways, closer to the great 18th century playwright Marivaux and to the best 19th century French playwright, Alfred de Musset.
Most Rohmer movies deal with people, predominantly young and younger, who talk of love and get in and out of relationships. And the older Rohmer gets the younger his movies seems to be. His characters argue, prod, discuss, flirt, advise, shift, all in what appear to be ordinary or at least real settings and situations. The movies are low budget, non-studio-ish, beautifully shot in cities, beaches, apartments and subtly symbolic nature. The dialogues are carefully crafted to be convincingly true, as well as improvised.
Rohmer, among his other works, has concentrated in groupings: Six Moral Tales; Six Comedies and Proverbs (a la Musset); Tales of the Four Seasons, the last and latest of which is Autumn Tale.
It is the story of two women in their mid-40s, best friends for ages, in the Cotes du Rhone wine-growing region. The actresses are veterans of Rohmer films. The rest of the perfecr cast are unknowns or little-known. Magali, a vineyard owner, is widowed with children (grownup). Isabelle, a married bookseller, secretly decides that it is time for her friend to have a man in her life. In the matchmaking process, there are twists and turns, disguises and tricks, surprises and shocks, complications, quid pro quos. confusions, mix-ups, and, and. . . No, I will not drop any hints -- see for yourself. It is all wonderful, intelligent, subtly sophisticated, clever but not smarty-pantsy, touching but not penny-dreadful-sentimental. It is funny, humorous and witty.
What's familiar for Rohmer habitués may be that the (at the time of filming) 78-year old maker has an unmatched understanding of people, including the youths. Also (look at the credits) the importance of women as his collaborators. What is new is that Rohmer has upped the age of his protagonists. Which brings me to a "review" I ran into but I can't find, alas. So I'll give you what I remember. The writer, a male, said in effect that the film was dull especially because he sees movies to look at beautiful chicks, and the two women protagonists were old and homely.
Anyway, Rohmer movies are made for gourmets, sophisticated cognoscenti who know their film cuisine.