Made 18 years ago, but for some dubious reason never released theatrically here in the States, Eric Rohmer’s A Summer’s Tale finally hits theatres, getting a new spit-and-polish digital restoration in the process. And like a gentle breeze that makes that August afternoon in Austin all the more tolerable, the film is a welcome tonic to the cinematic landfill that gets pushed into theatres this time of year.
Heeding to the usual Rohmer template of a character agonizing over a decision, A Summer’s Tale follows young Gaspard (Poupaud), a recent graduate and budding musician, as he spends a few weeks in Dinard, a coastal town in Brittany, France, before embarking on a job in engineering. He’s come to hopefully meet up with Lena (Nolin), his “girlfriend,” a term I use in the vaguest possible sense. For Gaspard is not really sure he likes her, and he’s not really sure that she likes him, and she may not even show up at all. So, while strolling the beaches and wandering around town, he develops a friendship with Margot (the luminous Langlet, the titular character from Rohmer’s Pauline at the Beach), a waitress in a bistro. She introduces him to sensuous Solene (Simon), with whom he has a brief fling before running into Lena – spoiler: She shows up – and now, Gaspard must choose between them all.
It’s a theme that will be familiar to anyone who’s spent some time with Rohmer. He tended to explore the same geometric, intellectual-Dating Game structure in the majority of his films. The fact that he could do so, time and time again, with refreshing clarity and new insight is a tribute to how much of a master he was. Rare is the director who can elicit charmingly eloquent performances from (often) nonactors in such a way that you succumb to the idea that you are watching real life unfold before your eyes. Some dismiss his work as arthouse posturing, but his preoccupation with the often instinctive choices we make in this life, and their subsequent consequences are, more often than not, quietly revelatory. Fall into the rhythm of Rohmer’s beats, and you will hear the sound of humanity wrestling with everything that matters.