Autumn Tale
[Conte d'automne]

             In 1990, veteran French filmmaker Eric Rohmer began the cycle of
     films which have come to collectively been known as
"Tales of the
       Four Seasons"
. Owing much to his previous oeuvre, these four stories
     are built around romance and as is his hallmark, focus on the nuanced
     relationships between men and woman. The last movie in his tetralogy,
Autumn Tale/Conte d'automne has arrived in the USA. While it shares
     his penchant for conversation and attention to setting, this film differs
     slightly from the other three in that the central characters are mature
     women. There is the requisite ingenue and she has a pivotal role in the
     story, but the predominant figures are Migali (Béatrice Romand), a widowed
     vineyard owner, and her childhood friend Isabelle (Marie Rivière). The crux
     of the tale revolves around Migali's loneliness; Isabelle conspires to find
     her a suitable partner, as does Rosine (Alexia Portal), the young girlfriend
     of Migali's son. Whereas another director may have played up the farcical
     elements, Rohmer trusts the material to play out in a more direct
     even-handed fashion.

             As a filmmaker, Rohmer tends to create chamber pieces, stories that
     revolve around the problems (whether moral, ethical or romantic) of articulate,
     well-educated people, thus earning him comparisons with novelists,
     perhaps most notably Jane Austen (for his use of irony). But this overlooks
     his skill with actors and his immaculate use of the camera. Rohmer uses
     Migali's vineyards as a metaphor for maturity, and that is such a contrast
     to the youth-dominated American marketplace. Yes each generation must
     cede the next but Rohmer reminds the audience that middle age can still
     bring its share of adventures.

             In her search for a mate for her friend Isabelle places a personal ad
     and meets with a prospective respondent (Alain Liboit). Watching  Rivière
     is a class in acting. With a simple gesture or glance, she conveys a multitude
     of emotions. Rosine's choice is a former teacher and former paramour
     (Didier Sandre), one of those men who perpetually seeks younger lovers in
     order to maintain a grasp on his own fast-fleeing youth. Rosine cannot
     sense that a match with Migali is wrong -- she is more interested in
     deflecting his interest in her. The heart and soul of the film is Romand's
     Migali. With her untamed, curly brown hair and penchant for dressing
     down, she is hardly your typical screen candidate for leading lady.
     Yet Romand has the gravity to depict a lonely woman whose friends
     come to her aid.

             Rohmer doesn't wrap things up nicely, preferring to leave the audience
     to draw its own conclusions. As
Autumn Tale may be the director's swan
     song, it is a fitting coda to his long and distinguished career. One can
     only hope he will continue to regale audiences with his finely-tuned
     comedies of manners. As it is, he has offered a refreshing taste of fall.

                                     Rating:         A-
© 2008 by C. E. Murphy. All Rights Reserved.