Amanda Langlet and Melvil Poupaud are just friends (maybe) in "A Summer's Tale." Credit: Big World Pictures
‘A Summer’s Tale’ Director: Eric Rohmer Stars: Melvil Poupaud, Amanda Langlet Rating: G 5 (out of 5) Globes
Not every Eric Rohmer film — or even every film by established non-American filmmakers — demands a stateside release. But it seems particularly inexplicable that this summer is the first time his 1996 youth drama — the third in the French New Wave director’s “Tales of the Four Seasons” cycle — has seen theaters on these shores. Granted, strong as it is — and it’s one of Rohmer’s very best works, if perhaps not as towering as another of his summer films, “The Green Ray” (sometimes called simply “Summer”) — it’s a film that only he could make. It is, after all, a G-rated film, made by a then-76-year-old, about young people, one of whom loves to write sea shanties.
Then again, Rohmer is painfully human, being one of the most insightful filmmakers into those most mysterious of earthly things: human emotions. Melvil Poupaud (who went on to star in “A Christmas Tale” and “Laurence Anyways”) plays Gaspard, a floppy-haired post-grad whiling away the season before he starts his career. He doesn’t seem to be pursuing anyone, yet he winds up juggling three women.
Each is a type: the one who’s just a friend (maybe), the bossy one, the flighty one. But within those broad parameters lies endless nuance and shading, each one revealing depths through scene upon scene of chatter. Gaspard’s deepest connection is with the first one: the ever-smiling, always game Margot (Amanda Langlet, the teen of Rohmer’s “Pauline at the Beach”), who has a boyfriend who’s abroad and can’t decide if her new male friend, with whom she frequently takes long, talky strolls, is a friend or a summer fling.
Melvil Poupaud (with Gwenaelle Simon) is a very Eric Rohmer youth: the kind who likes sea shanties. Credit: Big World Pictures
Rather than force her to make a choice, Rohmer embraces her confusion, as he does with every character. It’s funny that Gaspard has an M.A. in math; he struggles to understand the three women in his life, who can’t be solved, who routinely change their mind, who act on unpredictable impulse one day and withdraw with equal unpredictability another. Rohmer has plenty of films about women who play with men, but it’s clear he’s most taken with Margot, even as she takes a mischievous delight in lightly playing with the very serious yet very immature Gaspard’s feelings.
In fact, watching the dense interplay of emotions unfold in “A Summer’s Tale,” or just about any Rohmer joint, it’s easy to wonder why he’s sometimes a figure of fun. His style — deceptively plain long takes of articulate people talking through their complicated thoughts and feelings — lends itself to mockery; Gene Hackman’s character in 1975’s “Night Moves” (a fairly hypnotic film in its own right) infamously described Rohmer’s films as “watching paint dry.” That’s perhaps only if you’re looking at it, and if the locations weren’t consistently picturesque. (Even the apartment of “My Night at Maud’s” has plenty of decorations to attract the eye.) But Rohmer’s real landscape of choice is the human brain, and in that respect, given all the characters and pairings, “A Summer’s Tale” is downright action-packed.