Amanda Langlet (Margot) and Melvil Poupaud (Gaspard), A SUMMER’S TALE, Courtesy of Big World Pictures
“A Summer’s Tale” (“Conte d’été”) was the third in a series of four so-called seasonal tales written and directed by Eric Rohmer, best known for “My Night at Maud’s,” “Pauline at the Beach” and “Claire’s Knee.” Produced in 1996, it is the only one of the four “tales” never released in the United States, an oversight that is being corrected now. After viewing this turgid film, several questions occur. The first is, why bother? The second relates more to what was Rohmer, a usually great filmmaker, thinking when he made this film?
From the beginning, Rohmer was a master at philosophical discussions and dilemmas that only the French could conceive. Typically about the vicissitudes of love and fidelity, Rohmer’s characters usually come alive, brighten and raise the bar on intelligent dialogue. The entanglements of love, whether coming of age or reaching later maturity, his characters probe the soul and philosophize, usually about the possibilities extant in the world of relationships.
Certainly Rohmer attempted to do all of the above in “A Summer’s Tale.” That he failed, and failed miserably, can be attributed to numerous factors. First and foremost was his three repetitive openings, each lasting far too long and each identical, although one was soundless, one was without subtitles and the third what should have been the one and only. An opening like this is what one might expect from a first year film student intent on creating something “arty.” Further, opening pointlessly in this manner uses up any good will that the viewer might have had toward the other failures of the film. He wasted precious real estate and time on a gimmick.
Gaspard (Melvil Poupaud) has come to the beach town of Dinard in Brittany to meet his on-again off-again girlfriend Lena (Aurelia Lorin). When Lena is a no-show, he bonds with a local girl, Margot (Amanda Langlet), working as a waitress in her aunt’s créperie, translated gracelessly as “pancake house” as though an American audience might be unaware of the difference between the delicate crepe and the heavy pancake. Actually, in an apt metaphor, this film is the leaden equivalent of a Bisquick flapjack.
Margot is a great listener to the drivel spouted by the indecisive Gaspard and she encourages him to have a summer fling with her friend Solène (Gwenaëlle Simon). Margot and Gaspard spend many an afternoon discussing the nature of love and whether or not he has ever experienced its true passion. Probably not, for eventually the ambivalent and uncharismatic Gaspard finds himself scheduled between talks with Margot and dates with Solène and Lena who has suddenly reappeared.
Sadly, Gaspard lacks depth and conviction, Solène is an airhead and Lena a bitch, leaving only Margot as a character of substance. Much of this could have to do with the acting limitations of Poupaud, Lorin and Simon but most of it lies on the written page. Depth of performance is up to the actors, and it is clearly missing; depth of character was up to Rohmer and it just isn’t there.
Rather than kick a dead horse, as the limited release of this film will bring in a sparse audience and the DVD release will attract only those wanting to complete the “season” collection, suffice it to say that there is little or no reason to see this film. It is a disappointment all the way around and not how I prefer to remember the work of the late genius whose other films gave me so much joy.