1998, PG, 110 min. Directed by Eric Rohmer. Starring Stéphane Darmon, Alexia Portal, Didier Sandre, Alain Libolt, Béatrice Romand, Marie Rivière.
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., Aug. 27, 1999
This French film is a quietly interesting but unusually perceptive story about love and relationships. Set in the Rhone countryside of southern France, the story examines friendships between women in their mid-40s, friendships between women across generations, the eternal potentiality of love, and the unspoken impact of surroundings on human beings. French director Eric Rohmer is a master when it comes to accomplishing such things. Throughout his long filmmaking career, he has created a stable of characters who grapple with love, chance, and opportunity. They discuss these things cogently and passionately. Rohmer's films are all also schematic: They have internal connective structures as well as external ones. His films often occur in thematic series. He established his reputation in the Sixties with his Six Moral Tales, among which are three films that probably remain his best known: My Night at Maud's, Claire's Knee, and Chloe in the Afternoon. He was also the editor of the famed critical journal Cahiers du Cinema during the French New Wave's salad years, 1956-1963. Autumn Tale is the final film in Rohmer's Tale of the Four Seasons quartet. These films all focus on relationships and spontaneous decisions. Autumn Tale tells the story of happily married Isabelle (Rivière) and her friendship with widowed vintner Magali (Romand). Both women have children who have grown and left home, and Isabelle gets Magali to admit that she might find the company of a man pleasant. So Isabelle places a personal ad for Magali without her knowledge, then screens the applicants. Meanwhile Magali's younger friend Rosine (Portal) is also plotting to introduce the woman to an ex-boyfriend of hers who is 25 years the girl's senior. Ultimately, it's not the “what” of what happens in the movie that's as important as the “how.” What we see is the casual beauty of these fortysomething women, the intrusive smokestacks of the power plants that loom always in the background, the elaborate happenstance that characterizes every exchange. These are the things that become manifest in Rohmer's world. Patience is rewarded with revelations.