Conte d'Et®¶(1996)

Damian Cannon


Humanistic, perceptive and drenched in the warm glow of sunlight, A Summer's Tale proves rewarding in a very European fashion. Gaspard (Melvil Poupaud), a maths graduate with time to kill, arrives in the seaside town of Dinard. Laden with guitar and rucksack, he makes his way to a shuttered home, then lets himself in and gently strums. Over the next few days his gangling figure becomes familiar on the sea-front, though he never seems to meet anyone that he knows or falls into conversation with a stranger. However, on one lazy beach afternoon he bumps into Margot (Amanda Langlet), the waitress from a local restaurant. After she's initiated a conversation, Gaspard seems to emerge from his silence and they turn out to have a fair amount in common.

With nothing else to do, Margot and Gaspard end up taking long walks and discussing life in general. Since Margot already has a boyfriend, even if he is currently on the other side of the world, and Gaspard professes to be waiting for a special person, romance never becomes an issue. Thus, able to converse as friends, their innermost thoughts gradually spill out, though Gaspard does most of the talking. It turns out that he has decamped to Dinard to wait for his girlfriend Lena (Aurelia Nolin), who is currently in Spain. Her commitment seems quite vague though, and Gaspard's feelings unclear, so Margot suggests that he find himself a summer girlfriend, perhaps Solene (Gwenaelle Simon). While he considers, they chat some more and visit an old sailor (whom Margot is researching, since she is an ethnologist).

The third part of Eric Rohmer's "4 Seasons-Cycle", A Summer's Tale is quite obviously the result of his idiosyncratic film-making technique. Certain aspects of everyday holiday life are examined in minute detail, while other parts are more or less ignored (such as what Gaspard does when he's not out strolling). Since most of the action involves characters talking about how they feel or what they want to do (while the camera follows them around like a faithful hound), this weights the film significantly. Fortunately, Rohmer is so experienced and delicate in his ability to write for such a limited scenario, that this imbalance is rarely a concern. Instead, the precise and knowledgeable dissection of Gaspard's personality holds the attention.

By casting himself onto the forces of coincidence at play in the Brittany countryside, Gaspard projects a seeming lack of concern over his future. This is a mere facade though, as Margot tellingly reveals. While he likes to play the field, masking his intentions, and believes that he's got it all under control, she reveals qualities which are common to all (where the field of love is concerned). The truth, fluid and changeable though it is, becomes clarified, before being shown to matter not a jot. This is where the story-telling skill of Rohmer shines; he casts knowing eye over relationships, then indicates how all of the nervous energy spent over them was for naught anyhow!

Whilst delightful dialogue lashes the tiny cast into a dance with no discernable impetus, the golden aura of A Summer's Tale makes this of negligible importance. The young and charming cast are a pleasure to sit with, even if they aren't doing everything. Out of nothing, a light sexual tension arises between the characters, without Rohmer showing anything more explicit than a few brief kisses. However, the only role that develops is that of Gaspard, with everyone else left in an emotional stasis (such that their feelings are impenetrable). This leaves the film slightly lop-sided, especially when Lena appears; after an extended build-up, the reality of the flesh is a let-down. Interesting as a slice-of-life episode, A Summer's Tale depends upon being approached in the correct frame of mind (otherwise the meandering is likely to annoy rather than entrance).