Eric Rohmer's A TALE OF WINTER is a beautifully buoyant film, both intellectually challenging and rapturously romantic. Rohmer invests his simple story, first released in France in 1991, with the kind of thoughtful, delicate touches for which he is famous.
In contemporary Normandy, after a holiday at the seashore, two lovers, Felicie (Charlotte Very) and Charles (Frederic Van Den Driessche), go their separate ways. Felicie gives Charles her address, but Charles is between residences, so he promises to write instead. Five years later, Felicie is a
hairdresser in a nearby town. Although she is raising Charles's child, Elise (Ava Loraschi), Felicie has never heard from him. Despite her passion for her lost love, Felicie tries to decide between two new suitors, Maxence (Michel Voletti), a beauty salon owner, and Loic (Herve Furic), a librarian
and scholar. When Maxence invites Felicie to become his partner in a shop he's opening in Nevers, she leaves Loic and travels with Maxence to the new town. Before long, however, Felicie feels she's being treated like any other employee in the shop, and she's also concerned that Elise is unhappy in
their home above the salon. She returns to Loic, but still hopes for a sign from Charles.
While shopping during the holidays, Felicie sees Charles on a bus. She runs away, thinking he's with another woman, but Charles follows her and explains that she had given him the wrong address five years earlier. Felicie introduces Charles to his daughter and then takes him home to meet the
rest of her family. Felicie and Elise plan to move to Brittany, where Charles owns a restaurant.
A TALE OF WINTER is the second of Rohmer's "Tales of the Four Seasons." The title alludes to Shakespeare's A Winter's Tale (seen as a play within the film), but the plot and characters are entirely Rohmer's. At 73, Rohmer is still associated with the French New Wave filmmakers who re-invented
cinema in the 1960s (Godard, Truffaut, Chabrol), but Rohmer's method--the oblique re-examination of classic morality plays, the modest revision of cinematic conventions--is more subtle than that of most of his contemporaries.
More than any other New Wave director, Eric Rohmer has shown a consistent affinity for and understanding of women. His characters are typically articulate and fully developed, but Rohmer's privileging of female issues and concerns is remarkable. From the "girl talk" dialogue he wrote for
Godard's pre-New Wave short, ALL THE BOYS ARE NAMED PATRICK (1957), to his exploration of love and metaphysics in the present film, Rohmer has provided cinema with some of the most sympathetically rendered female characters in cinema. Felicie is not, of course, an entirely sympathetic heroine--she
keeps two men on a string--nor is she as sophisticated as the male protagonist of A TALE OF SPRINGTIME (1990). But Felicie is an honest, sensual type, who, though not as book-smart as Loic, possesses a sharp mind and strong opinions nonetheless. And by using flash-forward early in the story,
Rohmer compels the viewer to examine Felicie's dilemma thoroughly (after jumping ahead five years, the details of her new life are revealed slowly).
Rohmer's naturalism is so effective--the director is noted for letting his actors develop their roles--that the climactic re-introduction of Charles into Felicie's life seems authentic, for all its fateful romanticism. Similarly, the story's sentimental aspects are tempered by Loic's rigorously
intellectual debates with Felicie about mysticism and metaphysics. In the end, no one will confuse A TALE OF WINTER with SLEEPLESS IN SEATTLE. Rohmer embraces all his characters, flaws and all, by conferring dignity at once to the masculine and the feminine, the cerebral and the emotional, the
sensual and the spiritual, the literary and the cinematic.(Nudity, sexual situations.)
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