Autumn tale (1998)

The Games People Play….

Autumn Tale (Conte d’Automne), set in France’s spectacular Rhone Valley, is the last of the Four Season films from director Eric Rohmer. Rohmer is one of my all-time favourite directors, and Autumn Tale is one of his best films. Rohmer excels at creating simple scenes and dialogue, and this is certainly true in this wonderful, deceptively simple film.

As with many Rohmer tales, this is a tableaux of relationships, and there are several relationships under scrutiny here. One of the relationships is between married bookseller Isabelle (Marie Riviere) and her childhood friend, vineyard owner, widow Magali (Beatrice Romand). As is so often the case with the happily married, Isabelle wants Magali to be equally happy and to get out into the world and find a man. While Magali acknowledges that she’s lonely and would like a relationship, she’s not comfortable in social settings. She thinks a romance will just ‘happen’ in spite of the fact that she leads an extremely isolated life.

Magali’s son, Leo (Stephane Darmon) is dating a bright, self-possessed young girl named Rosine (Alexia Portal). Leo isn’t Rosine’s usual ‘type’ and she acknowledges that he’s a “filler” to her much older ex-professor, Etienne (Didier Sandre). While Etienne would like his relationship with Rosine to become more, she flirts and plays fast and loose with Etienne–encouraging him and then in the next moment insisting that he find a woman his own age. Extremely flirtatious with Etienne, Rosine’s behavior could be categorized as conflicted or manipulative depending on just how generous you feel about her character. Subsequently, she decides to play matchmaker and bring Etienne and Magali together, and while this is really a ridiculous idea, it reveals a little more about Rosine’s motives.

In the meantime, Isabelle places a personal ad in the newspaper. Screening replies, she answers an ad from a divorced man named Gerald (Alain Libolt). Isabelle poses as Magali, and makes a series of dates without revealing the truth.

One of the reasons I love Rohmer films is the authenticity of his dialogue, and throughout the film it’s easy to imagine being in the same room with these fascinating, realistic characters as they play little psychological games with one another. While Isabelle ostensibly acts as a good, loyal friend by matching making for Magali, are her motives entirely pure? Does she enjoy playing with Gerald’s emotions? And what about Rosine? What sordid little game is she playing with Etienne and Leo?

Everything comes to a head at the wedding of Isabelle’s daughter, and there’s one great scene when Rosine assumes the nagging, jealous wife role to a disgruntled Etienne. Magali, who is supposedly the recipient of everyone’s best intentions, is the one person who has no clue what is going on. Through the matchmaking efforts of Isabelle and Rosine, the film creates some intriguing parallels. Both Isabelle and Rosine supposedly want to find a mate for Magali, and at the same time they both toy with the idea of love affairs with the men they find for Magali.

If you are a fan of Rohmer films, you may spot that Magali is the same actress who appeared 28 years earlier in Rohmer’s masterpiece (and my all-time favourite) Claire’s Knee in the role of Laura. It’s Beatrice Romand’s body language that gives her away. It amazing to see her in Claire’s Knee as a teen and then see her as a mature woman in Autumn Tale. This is a typically and deceptively simple Rohmer film, a perfect conclusion to Rohmer’s Four Seasons that resonates long after the credits roll.

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Filed under Eric Rohmer, France

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