From the verbose intellectuals in his 1969 classic My Night at Maud’s to the loquacious lovers of 2007’s erotic The Romance of Astrea and Celadon, director Eric Rohmer has always loved talk. Yet in this sublime 1996 love story, nearly ten minutes elapse before a line of dialogue is spoken—a tension-generating exception to the norm. During that time we observe introverted young adult Gaspard (Melvil Poupaud) as he wanders the streets of a seaside resort town, eating at restaurants, noodling on his guitar and generally avoiding eye contact. In short order, he’s approached by waitress Margot (Amanda Langlet, a Rohmer veteran), who gets the full story: Gaspard is two weeks away from starting a new job and is spending his downtime waiting for flaky sorta-girlfriend Lena (Aurelia Nolin) to arrive. Will she? Won’t she?
Rohmer has a genius for taking a seemingly mundane situation and slowly tightening the screws. Margot has a rapport with Gaspard, though she denies any attraction—until maybe she doesn’t. Then there’s local girl Solene (Gwenaëlle Simon), who becomes smitten with the young man, but senses that his mind is elsewhere and continually challenges him about it. And, of course, the emotionally volatile girlfriend does show up—to Gaspard’s initial delight and eventual dismay. Conversation is a way for the characters to continually put off that crucial moment when a decision must be made. A long, enthralling interlude during which Solene and Gaspard hem and haw, evading any intimate expression (the scene’s punch line is killer) is the film in miniature. Think of it as a thriller by Hitchcock—a Rohmer favorite—only with words, not knives, that cut straight to the heart.
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