Eric Rohmer, who died in 2010, left behind a body of work full of intellectually probing everyday dramas about the relationships between men and women, the nature of art, and the nature of nature - Claire's Knee, Chloe in the Afternoon, My Night at Maud's, Pauline at the Beach. (Yes, women figure prominently.) He was the most formal of the filmmakers credited with launching the French New Wave, and his influence is still evident these days, especially in the work of Noah Baumbach (Margot at the Wedding, Frances Ha) and Richard Linklater (the Before trilogy).
In Rohmer's A Summer's Tale, which premiered at Cannes in 1996 but had not found theatrical distribution in the U.S. until now, Gaspard (Melvil Poupaud), a mop-headed university graduate, arrives at a beach town in Brittany with his backpack, guitar, and plans to spend the summer in amorous bliss with the blond Lena (Aurelia Nolin). It soon becomes evident that this will not be the case. His sort-of girlfriend is delayed, her phone calls are vague, assignations go awry.
No matter. Gaspard meets Margot (Amanda Langlet), a waitress in a sunny crêperie, and she befriends him. The pair pass the time strolling the shoreline, taking day trips, he explaining his dilemmas with Lena, she offering counsel and gentle chastisements. But just when their relationship looks like it might turn from friendship to something more (or something less? - that's a question Rohmer is always asking), along comes Margot's friend Solene (Gwenaëlle Simon), who invites Gaspard to come to St. Malo. In one scene, in the house of Solene's uncle and aunt, Gaspard sings her a sea shanty, and she joins in.
The third installment in Rohmer's "Tales of the Four Seasons" quartet, A Summer's Tale is one of those movies where it looks like nothing is happening; there is a lot of walking and talking (against exquisite backdrops), dissections and discourse about the intricacies of romance, the false signals, the fickleness. Gaspard is almost as self-obsessed as he is obsessed with finding the right girl, and Margot - piercingly intelligent, frank - finds his travails amusing.
"You're like a tramp who wakes up a millionaire," she tells him. "Three women at the same time."
And then she kisses him. And then she laughs, but maybe she is crying a little bit, too.
Love, it's complicated.
A Summer's Tale *** (Out of four stars)
Directed by Eric Rohmer. With Melvil Poupaud, Amanda Langlet, Aurélia Nolin, Gwenaëlle Simon. In French with subtitles. Distributed by Big World Pictures.
Running time: 1 hour, 53 mins.
Parent's guide: No MPAA rating (adult themes).
Playing at: Ritz Bourse.