Monday, September 16, 2013

FI: A Tale of Springtime

A Tale of Springtime / Conte de Printemps
France, 1990
Written and directed by Éric Rohmer

As we saw a few weeks ago in our Criteritron entry about his Six Moral Tales, Éric Rohmer often made films in groups, connected by common themes explored via different, unrelated characters. In this case, A Tale of Springtime is the first in a series of films relating to and set during each of the four seasons. Here, Rohmer relates the story of Jeanne (Anne Teyssèdre) a high school philosophy teacher in her late twenties. Unwilling to stay alone in her traveling fiancé's messy apartment, and unable to stay in her own apartment when her subletting cousin's studies run long, Jeanne takes up with Natacha (Florence Darel), a piano student in her late teens whom Jeanne meets at a party. The two seem to become fast friends, but Natacha may have her own motivations in her ongoing attempts to set her divorced father Igor (Hugues Quester) up with Jeanne in place of Ève, his current girlfriend with whom Natacha has a rocky, jealous relationship.

Like most of Rohmer's films, A Tale of Springtime is chatty and dialogue-heavy. His characters use speech like a carefully-wielded instrument, probing and testing each other's intellects and emotions while revealing their thoughts in a way not often seen in film (outside of Woody Allen or Richard Linklater, both of whom Rohmer clearly influenced). Here, the script's focus on philosophy makes for heady discussions, yet the characters' motivations remain opaque. Why does Jeanne stay with Natacha? Is it an attempt to teach the younger girl, or a chance to relive a youth she may have missed? Is Natacha a manipulator, or does she act in earnest? Who, if anybody, is happy with the current status quo? There are depths to be plumbed here, should you have the patience, and Rohmer gets solid performances from all the actors, which helps a lot.

In fitting with the series's themes, this film takes place in the spring, flitting back and forth from the apartments of Paris to the garden of Natacha's family's house in the countryside. Luc Pagès's cinematography captures both environments well, showcasing the low white light that comes as spring begins to break. Traditionally, spring is a time of rebirth, rejuvenation, and of starting over. It would be easy for this conceit to be trite if improperly deployed, but Rohmer proceeds with subtlety and never overplays his hand. Still, there are issues, here, as regards pacing and plot. This is a slow film, and one focused almost entirely on character interactions and dialogue. What story there is may prove too loose for some audiences. For me, I was engaged enough by the conversations not to notice the pacing problems or sparseness of story, and although I did leave the film feeling strangely unresolved, the lack of resolution seemed somewhat intentional. Spring is, after all, a time of beginnings, not endings. Just what has begun in A Tale of Springtime, however, remains unclear.

No comments:

Post a Comment