Women who want to play and those who want to be alone, women who want to love in a straight line, and those who prefer a curve: match-making, loneliness and re-writing the rules of love are the mellow sunsets in Éric Rohmer’s Conte d’Automne, the fourth film in the Contes des Quatre Saisons (Tales of the Four Seasons).
Two of Rohmer’s ‘heroines,’ actress Marie Rivière and Béatrice Romand come together as mature mutations of previous roles, and for those familiar with the director’s earlier films, Conte d’Automne is like checking-in with old friends you haven’t seen in 10 years.
Marie Riviere is, as always, ethereal and dreamy. She is the happily married Isabelle, best friend of Rhône Valley viticulturist, Magali (Béatrice Romand). Magali lives alone in a stone farm-house overlooking her small vineyard. She has a difficult disposition and is head-strong, a close image of Romand’s Sabine in Le Beau Mariage (Le Beau Mariage) and Laura Le Genou de Claire (Claire’s Knee). Magali is resigned to her loneliness and prefers developing wine to nurturing love. It’s the vendange, the skies are golden, and she hasn’t time for romance.
Isabelle thinks otherwise. Even though she’s in the middle of organising a wedding for her daughter (who can’t stand Magali), she’s determined in her quest to find a mate for her abrupt friend. Isabelle places an ad in a lonely-hearts column and starts to ‘date’ Gérald (Alain Libolt), masquerading as Magali.
Riviere’s characteristic eccentricities, although still present, are less introspective than Ann in La Femme d’Aviateur (The Aviator’s Wife) and Delphine in Le Rayon Vert (The Green Ray). As she checks out Gérald to see if he’s a good match for Béatrice, we can see an impish, playfulness shine through. Gérald is clearly attracted to Isabelle, all the while she remains gentle and determined in her Machiavellian pursuit: the end does justify the means, and Isabelle doesn’t mind the lie.
The scene where Isabelle finally admits to Gérald she’s been pretending, demonstrates why Rohmer is so successful in portraying women. He remains faithful to their strong femininity and purpose, while being committed to exploring their dichotomies.
Isabelle’s confession comes lightly, pleasingly, with no adherence to dramatic or bold comic stereotype. Isabelle has a strong voice, unashamed and unembarrassed of what she was done. She is unafraid to speak the truth.
Gérald is disappointed, yet remains in awe of Isabelle. It’s the typical Rohmer male-character response, consistent in nearly all his films. Male desire is evident, but politely placed in a pocket where it can be controlled. Gérald prefers to intellectually respond to Isabelle, his sinking heart shown only in his eyes as he kneels on a rest of reason. Rohmer’s men are confused by women, but accept they are unknowable and compelling. It’s a true adoration, and certainly one that reflects Rohmer’s unique understanding and intellectual love of women.
Director: Éric Rohmer (1998)