The world turns, the sun rises and sets, and the ocean’s waves splash on idyllic beaches in Eric Rohmer’s “A Summer’s Tale.”
Nature is a prominent, resolute character in this film, as it is in many of Rohmer’s works (“The Green Ray,” “Pauline at the Beach”). Much less steadfast and predictable, however, are the mercurial young people of “A Summer’s Tale,” the director’s keenly observed, wonderful 1996 drama-comedy that’s just now receiving a theatrical release in the U.S.
Rohmer, who died in 2010 after a long, prolific run as a major filmmaker, emerged from the mid-20th-century French New Wave. His mastery of a spare, leisurely but shrewdly telling cinematic style made the world look like a wondrous place.
But it was his compassionate satire toward characters, generally 20-somethings who think they know what they want but are blinded by doubt and rashness, that motivated his stories.
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“A Summer’s Tale” is a reminder of how moving and funny Rohmer’s comedies of manners could be. Set in a Breton resort town where the light is gorgeous, occasional winds are bracing and the beach is a magnet for sun-baked bodies, the story finds math student and music composer Gaspard (Melvil Poupaud) arriving for a brief vacation and awaiting a girlfriend who doesn’t show up.
Gaspard grows close to a comely, insightful ethnologist, Margot (Amanda Langlet), who has a long-distance boyfriend. Their respective commitments to other people preclude a summer fling, so their awkward relationship becomes one of ceaseless, knotty, sometimes futile dialogue about life, love and destiny.
The appearance of two other young women (Gwenaëlle Simon, Aurélia Nolin), each with her own complications, as romantic interests for Gaspard finds him grasping to make decisions even before he knows his own heart. In Rohmer’s films, what people want and need can be worlds apart.
Tom Keogh: firstname.lastname@example.org