by Ken B.
A lot of people tend to make fun of film critics for liking movies where seemingly nothing happens; the kinds of films where people talk for long stretches of time, often in French. Eric Rohmer’s A Summer’s Tale is a movie where seemingly nothing happens, and people talk for long stretches of time in French. And I liked it. It’s the third film in his Tales of the Four Seasons series, each of which tell an independent story, set during a different season of the year. A Summer’s Tale was released in its native country in 1996, and was subsequently distributed all over the world. Except for the United States. After a trip around American film festivals in the late ‘90s, the movie drifted off, largely forgotten in the country, only finding a formal release in 2014, eighteen years after its initial premiere. Now Rohmer’s quadrilogy is fully available in the U.S., and I will likely look at the other installments in the future.
A Summer’s Tale tells the story of Gaspard (Melvil Poupaud), a math graduate and amateur musician who travels to a beach in Dinard, France one summer. He gets there ahead of the scheduled arrival of his girlfriend Lena (Aurelia Nolin), and it soon becomes apparent that she will be several weeks late. In the meantime, Gaspard wanders the area, spending time at the shore and exploring the town. In the process, he meets a local waitress named Margot (Amanda Langlet), and later her friend Solene (Gwenäelle Simon). Margot, Solene, and Lena each have different personalities and outlooks on life. Gaspard now faces great uncertainty, unable to choose which woman he likes more, and realizes that he has a tough choice to make come summer’s end.
Rohmer’s direction matches the tone of his screenplay – slow moving and loosely structured. It’s not quite meandering, but more slice of life. Title cards periodically appear, telling us when a particular scene or series of scenes occurs. It’s relaxed but well focused, and over 113 minutes, Rohmer provides the audience with thorough examinations of his characters, allowing Gaspard’s struggle to be clear without externalizations that would potentially upend the film’s leisurely-but-not-dragging pace. The actors are able to sufficiently carry this over, with Poupaud providing an able performance centered around his three supporting cast members – Nolin, Langlet, and Simon are equally credible in carrying the film forward, making A Summer’s Tale a well written and well acted production.
And it’s also well shot. Cinematographer Diane Baratier beautifully shoots the 4:3 image, where the beautiful Breton seaside often serves as a backdrop to the film’s numerous exterior shots. Interiors are also handsomely handled, with many warm wooden colors and sun soaked windows adding to the central motif of summer, and thus multiplying the atmospheric qualities of the film. There is no artificial score, which is again part of the slice-of-life approach, but as one of Gaspard’s hobbies is music, particularly the guitar, this ensures that a few songs flow through A Summer’s Tale, often light rounds, sung by characters off the cuff.
When the norm for a lot of movies are fast cuts, action or action-esque scenes, and snappy dialogue, it’s almost refreshing to come across a film that doesn’t need all of that. A Summer’s Tale is a pleasant trifle, as you might call it – not great or memorable, but a pleasurable and entertaining experience. And while the movie has been out for nearly twenty years and Rohmer himself has been dead for the last five, the film’s ability to capture emotions and conflicts without overblown scripting or unrealistic character movements, while still remaining engaging, confirms further its success and likely longevity. Whether it’s watched during its titular season or in the dead of winter (as I did), you’ll find that if you like its style, A Summer’s Tale delivers.