A TALE OF SPRINGTIME
Review by Ed Nguyen
Anne Teyssèdre, Florence Darel, Hugues Quester, Eloïse Bennett
Director: Eric Rohmer
Video: Color, widescreen 1.66:1
Length: 107 minutes
Release Date: March 5, 2002
my father needs is someone like you."
films over the years have regularly been accused of being tediously pretentious
or intellectual to the point of boredom. To
some degree, this may be true. The
flaw for many of these films is that characters seem to deliver dialogues which
emanate more from an auteur or writer's personal philosophy than from the
natural circumstances within the films themselves.
Such films inherently lose internal validity and may as a consequence
feel artificial in tone.
the finest directors are not entirely immune to a tendency to use the film
medium as a pulpit. Witness, for
example, Charlie Chaplin's famous (but out-of-character) speech at the
conclusion of his masterful The Great
Dictator. Or, among notable
European directors, witness any of the later films of Federico Fellini or the
more esoteric efforts by Ingmar Bergman. There
can be no doubt that these directors are all incredibly talented, but the
abstractions or excesses in some of their works may render these films readily
accessible to only a small portion of the movie-going audience.
historian Louis Giannetti once stated that "we must believe that the
eloquence belongs to the character,
and is not merely the writer's 'messages' dressed up as dialogue."
In other words, film audiences are willing to accept intellectual
discussions but only if these conversations feel plausible in the context of the
films themselves. This principle, in essence, is what separates the films of
French director Eric Rohmer from many other art-house films.
routinely populates his films with students or artists, and many of his films
feature discussions based on ideas or abstractions. However, Rohmer avoids the potential pitfall of
preachiness by employing the language of the real world in his films.
The conversations in his films flow with the natural cadences of typical
conversations, and so, they have an aura of believability, no matter what the
topic of discussion. A debate over
the definition of "transcendence" would feel just as natural in a
Rohmer film as would a song in a musical.
over half a century, Rohmer has been quietly making films in this style.
With over four dozen feature-length films and short subjects to his
credit, he may be among the most prolific of the French New Wave directors.
Rohmer's favorite theme has always been the intricate relationship
between man and woman, and many of his best films have centered upon this theme.
Perhaps his most well-known body of work is the six
contes moraux (Six Moral Tales), a
series of two shorts and four feature-length films exploring human sexuality and
even philosophical differences. Starting
with 1962's La Boulangère de Monceau
and concluding with 1972's Chloe in the
Afternoon, these films, particularly My
Night at Maud's (1969), brought Rohmer to the forefront of world cinema and
helped to establish his cinematic reputation as a thoughtful, clear-minded
filmmaker for the post-modern era.
1990, Rohmer released Conte du Printemps
(A Tale of Springtime).
It was the first of another series of films, this time revolving around a
season of the year. Three more films were eventually created for the series - A
Tale of Summer, A Tale of Autumn, and Winter's
Tale - and collectively, these
films were appropriately entitled the "Tales of the Seasons."
the first film in the series, A Tale of
Springtime visits many of Rohmer's favorite themes.
The film examines the layers of complexities within human relationships,
in this case between a single father with his current girlfriend and his
disapproving daughter. As with many of Rohmer's films, it is also a film of very
little action. The title, A Tale of Springtime, connotes a sense of purity, of youth and
innocence. What love might arise
during the course of the film will be one of new feelings or new emotions
explored. As such, the film is a
collection of character studies, unfolded in a succession of natural
conversations, with thoughts and musings that follow the flow and cadence of
films commonly reflect the calm, deliberate rhythm of life.
This is the case with A Tale of Springtime as well. His
camerawork employs a simplistic but fluid style, and scenes are allowed to
linger, as though to emphasize that the world of the film persists even if there
is no one around or there is no perceivable action to advance the plot.
Consequently, viewers accustomed to the rapid editing of an MTV-style
film may find A Tale of Springtime (and most any other Rohmer film) slow and
boring, but for those willing to invest the time and patience, a Rohmer film can
ultimately be quite satisfying on an emotional or thought-provoking level.
Tale of Springtime
starts out with a typical touch of realism, establishing a relaxed, authentic
style that will dictate the pace of the film.
A young woman enters an apartment and wanders about, doing little more
than re-arranging furniture or sorting through loose articles of clothing.
This opening sequence lasts for several minutes and contains no dialogue
at all. We are given no indication
as to who this young woman is, nor do we even know whose apartment she is in.
As it turns out, the apartment belongs to her boyfriend.
woman is Jeanne (Anne Teyssèdre). She
is a young high school teacher. Her
boyfriend is away for the weekend, and Jeanne elects not to spend the weekend
alone at his apartment. Having
nothing better to do, she attends a wine-and-cheese party that evening at the
home of a former colleague. While
there, she meets Natacha (Florence Darel), a young lycée student who finds
herself alone among strangers after her date leaves unexpectedly. The two women strike up a conversation and quickly discover
that they have two traits in common - neither of them knows anyone at the party,
and both find the party to be incredibly dull.
Also, since Natacha now has no ride home, and Jeanne has no place to stay
(having lent her own apartment to a cousin for the weekend and having no wish to
remain at her boyfriend's apartment), Natacha cheerfully offers Jeanne the spare
bedroom at her apartment in exchange for a ride home.
Jeanne spends the entire weekend with Natacha, and they quickly become good
friends. They discuss all matters
of subjects - their boyfriends, their interests, their philosophies on life,
etc. During the course of these
myriad conversations, Natacha reveals that she is not particularly fond of her
father's new girlfriend Eve (Eloïse Bennett).
And, she discerns that perhaps Jeanne is not entirely happy in her
current relationship with her boyfriend, either.
a Hollywood film, the general arc of such a the storyline would be easy to
predict, but in Rohmer's film, it is nearly invisible.
In A Tale of Springtime, the
plot is almost an afterthought. Conversations
in A Tale of Springtime regularly develop tangentially, and the
characters frequently discuss subjects apparently to the complete exclusion of
advancing the plot (Quentin Tarantino employed a similar technique in his Pulp
Fiction). It is far more interesting just to see how the friendship
blossoms between Jeanne and Natacha as they sit around and discuss random
matters. The film is so casual and
easy-going that it may be easy to lose track altogether of the plot!
in the week, Natacha invites Jeanne over for dinner. Natacha's father (Hugues Quester) has just returned from a
trip aboard and will present as well. The
following weekend, there is another rendez-vous with the father at Natacha's
country home. Is Natacha arranging
these encounters between Jeanne and her father? Or, are they merely the chance occurrences orchestrated by
life's randomness? While Natacha
admits to liking Jeanne and wondering what her father thinks of Jeanne, none of
Natacha's actions are directly responsible for bringing Jeanne and her father
together. Natacha even denies
trying to interfere with their personal lives.
But, as with real life, there is a note of ambiguity in the events of the
film which leaves them open to interpretation.
I have laid the essential backbone of the film's plot, it would be inaccurate to
describe A Tale of Springtime as a
light romantic comedy. This is a
film about true life, with characters who act and react realistically.
Conflicts are not tidily resolved in the last ten minutes of the film,
nor is the audience presented with a conventionally happy ending to the strains
of romantic violins. How will
Jeanne or Natacha's father respond to one another at their next encounter?
How has Jeanne's relationship with her own boyfriend been altered by the
events of the last two weekends? And
where does Eve fit into the picture? Rohmer's
film offers no definitive answers but instead presents an opportunity for
continual exploration and discovery. And, in the end, that is what life is all about.
colors are bright and bold, and the image is very detailed and incredibly sharp.
In fact, it may be too sharp,
as aliasing defects (and moiré patternings) do manifest themselves regularly. These defects are small but noticeable; my best suggestion
for viewers who find them intrusive is to soften up the image if their
television allows such an option. Other
than this, the video presentation is pleasant enough, and aside from a few
scratches at the beginning, the film looks fine.
Tale of Springtime
is presented in a French 2-channel monaural track.
It is almost entirely dialogue-driven, with essentially no music (other
than brief interludes at the start and conclusion of the film). The soundtrack is crisp and clear, and while it is nothing
extraordinary, it is suitable enough.
are no extras, save for a worn and scratchy French trailer (without subtitles).
MGM missed an opportunity to include some trailers for other films in its
international World Films Series, of which A
Tale of Springtime is just one. Oh