Eric Rohmer's 'The Romance of Astrea and Celadon'

0

Comments

Add +

David Jenkins argues that Eric Rohmer’s latest – and possibly last – film is still very much in his style, despite its somewhat unorthodox tale of druids and nymphs set in fifth-century France

Nobody likes homework, but it’d be worth embarking on a short study session before heading out to see the latest – and possibly last – picture by one of the world’s most cherished auteurs, Eric Rohmer, who started his career over fifty years ago at the dawn of the nouvelle vague. ‘The Romance of Astrea and Celadon’ is a dialogue-heavy farce and sticks to Rohmer’s long-held concerns of moral choice, romantic instinct and the cynicism of intellectual reason. While most of his films have been set in the present, this time the 88-year-old French director has adapted the seventeenth-century novel ‘Astree’ by Honoré d’Urfé, which tells of amorous goings-on among shepherds and nymphs in fifth-century France.

We open on a woodland feast, where chisel-chinned Celadon (Andy Gillet) is seen by lover Astrea (Stéphanie Crayencour) making merry behind a tree with another lass. When they meet the next day, she ignores him, so Celadon throws himself in a river. Unknown to grieving Astrea, Celadon’s body washes up downriver where he is revived by a lissom cadre of nymphs.

The film then charts the pair’s movements as Astrea mourns for her dead paramour while Celadon hatches a plan to win her back that involves building a shack in the woods, commissioning a druid to paint a picture of her and, ahem, dressing up as the druid’s ailing daughter. Like Marie Rivere’s philanthropic bookseller in Rohmer’s 1998 ‘An Autumn Tale’ who places a lonely hearts advertisement for her best friend, or Béatrice Romand’s overzealous romantic pursuit of André Dussollier’s meek lawyer in his 1982 film ‘A Good Marriage’, ‘Romance…’ again focuses on the embarrassing – and therefore amusing – risks that people take to secure their ‘perfect’ mate.

Unsurprisingly, in ‘Romance…’ Rohmer again adopts his notoriously economic approach to filmmaking (he is said to have shot improvised masterpiece ‘The Green Ray’ with a crew of four). Like Robert Bresson before him, Rohmer shows that not even the subtlest movement, expression or tonal inflection is lost to his gaze. Watching the film is like cinematic pearl diving, where pleasures can be gleaned as much from nuance, context and the poeticism of language as they can from character, intrigue and, here, song.

Many scold Rohmer for making the same film over and over again, yet, as with his previous two films (2001’s ‘The Lady and the Duke’ and 2004’s ‘Triple Agent’), ‘Romance…’ flaunts the universality of the heterosexual romantic set-up as myriad possibilities of the ‘same old story’ are allowed to play out against a historical backdrop. Though his adaptations of novels or other texts have been infrequent (others include 1976’s ‘The Marquis of O’ and 1978’s ‘Perceval le Gallois’), literature always plays a major role in Rohmer’s work, especially when it comes to deciphering love. Pascal’s ‘wager’ forms the basis of ‘My Night with Maud’ (1969) and ‘A Winter Tale’ (1992), while a discussion of Jules Verne’s ‘The Green Ray’ supplies a key moment of epiphany in the film of the same name. Even his dialogue often sidelines traits such as assertiveness, pithiness and naturalism (has there ever been a swearword in a Rohmer film?) in favour of full-bodied discourse which flags up his fondness of the French literary tradition and his background as a novelist and critic.

Perhaps the most typically Rohmerian aspect of ‘Romance…’ is the depiction of the body as unattainable objet d’art, with one scene seeing the camera linger suggestively over Astrea’s supple, sleeping form as Celadon tries to steal a kiss from her. The gentle eroticism of secrecy and proximity is something that Rohmer returns to repeatedly in his work, whether it’s the reverence of a body part (see ‘Claire’s Knee’), an innocuous stroll down a country path (see ‘A Summer's Tale’ or ‘My Girlfriend’s Boyfriend’), or a platonic bed share with an attractive woman (‘My Night with Maud’). The film is also infused with an understated ‘will they/won’t they’ element, which is present in the final reel of just about every Rohmer film you care to mention.

Filmed in the lush Auvergne region, ‘Romance…’ is another of his films dedicated to France and being French. Though you’d be hard pressed to describe Rohmer’s films as easy on the eye, they do offer a chance to experience a France beyond the banlieus of Paris, from the beaches of Normandy (‘Pauline at the Beach’) or St Tropez (‘The Collector’) to the snow-swept streets of Clermont-Ferrand (‘My Night with Maud’) and even the ugly town of Cergy-Pontoise (‘My Boyfriend’s Girlfriend’).

If ‘Romance…’ does end up being Rohmer’s swansong, it would be naive to argue that it stands up against his very best work. Some critics, perhaps alienated by its unorthodox setting, may even chalk it up as one of his few failures. Still, if you’ve enjoyed the work of filmmakers such as Catherine Breillat, Jacques Nolot, Richard Linklater, Neil Labute and even Quentin Tarantino, then there’s no reason why you shouldn’t give it a shot. It’s true that ‘Romance…’ is something of an oddity, but seen as a warm and wise dovetail to a 40-year ‘project’ that’s unmatched in modern cinema, it’s also a triumph of one man’s unflagging commitment to mapping the foibles of the human heart.

The Romance of Astrea and Celadon’ opens on Sept 12.

Author: David Jenkins



Users say

0 comments


Top Stories

Meet the dream team: a preview of ‘Les Misérables’

Meet the dream team: a preview of ‘Les Misérables’

Director Tom Hooper and his cast tell us how they turned the super-musical into movie blockbuster.

Oscar predictions

Oscar predictions

The Time Out film team weighs in on the nominees for the 2013 Academy Awards

January film highlights 2013

January film highlights 2013

Get ready for the big guns… Spielberg, Tarantino and Bigelow

October film highlights

October film highlights

Daniel Craig’s 007 comeback, a genius indie romcom and all the mysteries behind ‘The Shining’ unravelled.

The Time Out film debate 2012 highlights

The Time Out film debate 2012 highlights

The results of our study on the state of films and filmgoing in 2012.

Read 'Time Out film debate 2012 highlights'

Martin Freeman interview

Martin Freeman interview

'The Hobbit' actor tells us why he wouldn't have a pint with Bilbo Baggins.

Sam Mendes interview

Sam Mendes interview

Dave Calhoun speaks to the director of 'Skyfall' about the latest film in the Bond franchise.

Ang Lee interview

Ang Lee interview

The genre-hopping director tells us how he invented a new genre with 'Life of Pi'

Michael Haneke interview

Michael Haneke interview

The twice Palme d'Or-winning director discusses 'Amour'.

Read our interview with Michael Haneke

Thomas Vinterberg interview

Thomas Vinterberg interview

The Danish director talks about his powerful new drama 'The Hunt'.

Read our interview with Thomas Vinterberg'

Ten things the 'Twilight' movies did for us

Ten things the 'Twilight' movies did for us

Time Out looks back at the impact of the 'Twilight' saga.

Discover what 'Twilight' has done for us

On the set of 'Sightseers'

On the set of 'Sightseers'

Time Out heads to the Lake District to visit director Ben Wheatley on set.

Read about our visit to the 'Sightseers' set

Tim Burton interview

Tim Burton interview

The director talks about 'Frankenweenie', which he describes as 'the ultimate memory piece'.

Read our interview with Tim burton

The top ten Christmas films of 2012

The top ten Christmas films of 2012

Our pick of the best films showing over the festive period.

Read 'The top ten Christmas films of 2012'

What's your film guilty pleasure?

What's your film guilty pleasure?

Mean Girls? Dirty Dancing? Tell us your favourite film guilty pleasure.

Read 'Film guilty pleasures'

When teen stars turn serious

When teen stars turn serious

Ten young actors come of age on the silver screen.

Read 'When teen stars turn serious'

50 years of James Bond

50 years of James Bond

From Connery to Craig, we revisit all 22 Bond films.

Read '50 years of James Bond'

Paul Thomas Anderson interview

Paul Thomas Anderson interview

The director talks Scientology and working with Joaquin Phoenix.

Read the interview

Hilarious horror films

Hilarious horror films


Ten funny horror movies which went spectacularly off the rails.

Read 'Hilarious horror films'

Martin McDonagh interview

Martin McDonagh interview

The director talks psychopaths and theatre – 'my least favourite artform'.

Read the interview

Autumn horror films

Autumn horror films

We round-up the five best horror movies of Autumn 2012.

Read about this Autumn's best horror movies

On the set of Skyfall

On the set of Skyfall

Time Out visits Istanbul to see the latest Bond movie being made.

Read 'On the set of Skyfall'

Bond: then and now

Bond: then and now

Does Skyfall refresh or rehash the James Bond franchise?

Sally Potter interview

Sally Potter interview

The British director explains why 'Ginger and Rosa' is her most mainstream film yet.

Daniel Craig interview

Daniel Craig interview

'I’m almost as in demand as Brad Pitt’