Conversation in Eric Rohmer’s Conte de Printemps is as free as bugs buzzing in tall meadow grasses: a waking-up to truth, and the falling away of wintertime misunderstandings. First in the series Contes des Quatre Saisons (Tales of Four Seasons), the story concerns a blossoming friendship between Jeanne (Anne Teyssèdre), a Lycee/College teacher, and Natacha (Florence Darel), a young pianist.
They meet at a mutual friend’s party. Jeanne doesn’t want to sleep in the apartment she shares with her boyfriend because he is away and has left it in a mess, and so Natacha invites her to stay with her at her father’s place. According to his daughter, Pater (Igor, played by Hugues Quester) is 40 years-old but behaves like a 20 year-old.
Igor has an irritating girlfriend Ève (Eloïse Bennett), who is just a bit older than his daughter. Natacha doesn’t like her, and expresses her disdain with the same unthinking enthusiasm that she uses to spray insecticide on the bushes in her father’s country house. Jeanne is the cool water, applying logic in an attempt to massage out the tension between Ève and Natacha. She also finds herself attracted to Igor and solves a small family mystery.
Conte de Printemps sets the metronome to a gentle rhythm of space and time, one continued throughout Rohmer’s following three films in Contes des Quatre Saisons (Conte d’Ete, Conte d’Automne, Conte d’Hiver). ‘Rohmer time’ is a soothing tick of simple exchanges we usually take for granted. An invitation to stay at a friend’s house, sitting on the sofa at a party and having a chat, or asking: ‘Would you rather cut the salami or the tomatoes? Rohmer loves the ordinary, and he kneads out interactions so we can see their importance, thus placing us in the poetry of the everyday. We are never bored and each conversation is as fresh as, well, spring.
Jeanne, Natacha and Ève are equally opinionated. They deliver their views in different tunings. Natacha is un-edited, her youth rendering her unable to control her responses, meanwhile Ève wears her modernity without empathy and tact. She bluntly asks Jeanne why she is a teacher when she could have a much more interesting job in publishing, like herself. Jeanne responds, as in all other scenes, with a saintly self-control that is faintly dour. ‘I prefer to be the boss,’ she answers calmly.
‘I am fanatical about other people’s freedom’ claims Jeanne as she uses her theory to form a cage around herself. Rohmer points to this subtly, and during the final 10 minutes allows her a small release. It’s an experience that breaks a shell, and even though Jeanne returns to Paris to resume her ordinary life, something has been shaken off. She is changed; and her year can properly begin.
Director: Eric Rohmer (1989)