The movie of the summer in 1996 should have been A Summer’s Tale, a wise and bittersweet romance by then-septuagenarian filmmaker (and French New Wave co-founder) Eric Rohmer. But it didn’t get a chance to be. While the film did enjoy a regular release in Europe and was seen at festivals, for some reason it never actually opened in the U.S. for a regular run. This absurd oversight is finally rectified, as the movie is enjoying a proper arthouse go-round at last.
A Summer’s Tale, or Conte d’ete, was the third film in Rohmer’s four-seasons cycle. (Somewhat confusingly, Rohmer’s 1986 Le rayon vert was titled Summer for the English-language market.) This one’s about a would-be musician named Gaspard (Melvil Poupaud) who travels to the Brittany seaside for a summer break before his grown-up duties beckon. Three young women are in his mind: loquacious waitress Margot (Amanda Langlet, the adolescent star of Rohmer’s great Pauline at the Beach), with whom he can talk about his problems; assertive singer Solene (Gwenaelle Simon), ripe for a summer fling; and his quasi-girlfriend Lena (Aurelia Nolin), who’s supposed to be showing up any day now. The situation is far more nuanced than this romantic choice would suggest, and Gaspard faces long days of exploring and reassessing his attitudes about romance, most of which are charmingly in error.
Nothing in the movie is glibly scenic, but the locations are beautifully and precisely captured. So is the shapelessness of youthful summer days, which could be why the movie lasts 114 minutes; if it moved quicker it might not get that drowsy quality right. And Rohmer, as always, has the touch when it comes to tracking the tiny shifts in intensity between people. His neutral camera, which generally stays far enough from the characters so that we can appreciate body language and comfort levels, is ideal for allowing us to notice the tentative brush of a bare foot against someone else’s leg or the incline of two heads toward each other in a game of chicken that will end in a kiss. Or not.
For a while there it seemed as though Rohmer might just keep making a movie a year indefinitely. But he died, in 2010, at 89. So the belated arrival of this neglected gem is an unusual pleasure—maybe even the movie of the summer.
Opens Fri., July 18 at Varsity. Not rated. 114 minutes.