Autumn Tale


by Roger Ebert
from the Telluride Film Festival

Eric Rohmer's "Autumn Tale," [is] a glowing film I saw this week, and wrote about earlier. For now let's set aside the details of the film, and look at how Rohmer works. His plot (a woman's best friend places a personal ad for her, and secretly arranges for her to meet a likely candidate for marriage) could be the stuff of soap opera, sitcom, or paperback romance. But not the way Rohmer approaches it.

A director who is still inventive and curious at 78, he has two valuable qualities: Patience and attention. He allows us to meet the characters. To hear them talking, to see them living. They explain themselves. They discuss their lives. He's in no hurry to get to the payoff (and indeed the film has no love scene). He involves us in the lives of these people, and in what Bergman means by their faces. We grow to know them and care for them.

The challenge for the actors (especially Marie Riviere, as the widow) is enormous. The camera is not interested in their "acting" so much as in their essence, and as Rohmer attentively regards these people, we find ourselves in synch with their breathing and their inner natures. It's scary, almost, the way the movie cuts free of conventional pacing and allows us into the character's real time.

The film was introduced by its producer, the director Barbet Schroeder, who said Rohmer has his ideas long in advance of filming, but doesn't write a word of the script until he has spent weeks talking with the actors, "so that they will never have to say anything they wouldn't really say."

Schroeder told a story about one of Rohmer's earlier films, "Claire's Knee" (1971). "There is a scene in that movie where they pick a rose," he said. "Rohmer knew where the scene would be shot, and there he planted that rose, one year earlier, so that it would bloom just on time."

'A Tale of Autumn': Elaborate Fantasies of Love and Longing

October 2, 1998
, The New York Times

NEW YORK -- One way to look at the films of Eric Rohmer, in which assorted combinations of attractive, cultivated Europeans rearrange their lives amid much exquisitely verbalized soul-searching, is to see them as sophisticated fairy tales.

Shakespearean comedies for the modern professional class, they presuppose a highly civilized code of behavior and advanced educational level that in a Rohmer film could be taken as universal givens. Despite whatever blows fate may deliver the characters, a divine plan usually emerges that overrides earlier setbacks.

Rational decision-making pays off, as does trusting one's deepest intuitions. True love -- or the closest thing to it that one can find in this life -- is the ultimate reward, but it can't be tasted until every moral quandary has been aired and resolved.

"A Tale of Autumn," the final chapter in the director's "Tales of the Four Seasons," is as sublimely warming an experience as the autumn sun that shines benevolently on the vineyard owned by the film's central character, Magali (Beatrice Romond).

A wiry, vital woman in her mid-40s with snapping eyes and an unruly bush of hair, Magali, a widowed mother of two grown children, is content with her life except for one thing. When prodded by her married best friend, Isabelle (Marie Riviere), Magali admits that she longs for a relationship with the right man but believes it is too late for her to find love.

Magali brings all the usual arguments to rationalize her resignation. Potentially eligible partners would all want younger women, she insists. And living in the country (in the gorgeous Rhone Valley region of southern France), she is also isolated. When Isabelle suggests placing a personal ad, Magali is revolted by the idea.

"A Tale of Autumn" follows the confusions that ensue when two of Magali's friends decide to play matchmaker. Isabelle places a personal ad in Magali's behalf, and when a courtly, eminently suitable salesman named Gerald (Alain Libolt) responds, she interviews him extensively before revealing that she is a merely acting as an unbidden liaison to someone else.

Meanwhile, Magali's son's girlfriend, Rosine (Alexia Portal), whom Magali has taken under her wing, proposes to fix the older woman up with her ex-lover and former professor, Etienne (Didier Sandre).

Both prospective partners are coaxed into attending the wedding of Isabelle's daughter. The complications that follow at the outdoor reception might be described as Rohmer's elegantly psychologized and sublimated version of a classic French farce.

It isn't the story but the telling that makes "A Tale of Autumn" such a rich, emotionally satisfying experience. As the five main characters reveal their fantasies and fears, each emerges as an astoundingly complex and fully rounded human being. By the end of the film, Ms. Romond's Magali, an earthy, high-strung woman with an arrogance that masks an underlying shyness, has come so alive that you almost see her as a old friend.

The film's plot, like that of other Rohmer films, is mathematically schematic. Even before the equation has been balanced, except for a twist here and there, you know where the story will go. But the characters' depth, humanity and likability make the expected payoff feel earned.

"A Tale of Autumn" has its labored moments. Especially when the talk turns to grapes and late vintages, it is pressing an obvious metaphor a bit too aggressively. But the movie evokes such a sensuous atmosphere -- bird song, wind, and light and shadow that delineate the season and time of day with an astonishing precision -- that you are all but transported into Magali's fields, where this year's grapes promise to yield an especially fine vintage.

"A Tale of Autumn" will be shown Friday night and Sunday at Alice Tully Hall as part of the 36th New York Film Festival.




Written and directed by Eric Rohmer; in French, with English subtitles; director of photography, Diane Baratier; edited by Mary Stephen; music by Claude Marti; production managers, Francoise Etchegaray and Florence Rauscher; produced by Margaret Menegoz; released by October Films. Shown with an eight-minute short, Julie Lipinski's "Theo, Are You There?" Friday night at 6 and Sunday at 9:45 p.m. at Alice Tully Hall as part of the 36th New York Film Festival. Running time: 110 minutes. This film is not rated.

With: Marie Riviere (Isabelle), Beatrice Romand (Magali), Alain Libolt (Gerald), Didier Sandre (Etienne) and Alexia Portal (Rosine).