Conte de printemps / A Tale of Springtime (1990)

8 09 2013

A typical criticism of Eric Rohmer would be that nothing happens in his films. Sure, this seems like a pretty typical arthouse talking point, but even in the scope of the European film canon, his films are especially unassuming. They’re actually more direct than they are obtuse, which probably creates another level of frustration for the viewer. Every film I’ve seen from him can be explained broadly as people talking, which isn’t the most exciting description. But in making films that aren’t concerned with visual poetry, he presents the idea of a text that can be studied for what’s really important: the people in the film itself. A Tale of Springtime is more of the same, but the story feels conscious of its ideas. His other films can give the viewer something new with every viewing, but A Tale of Springtime feels too sure of itself.

1

Jeanne and Natacha strike up a conversation at a house party. The two are drawn to each other, perhaps because they don’t know anyone else at the party. Jeanne explains that she’s lending her place to a friend and laments having to sleep at her boyfriend’s apartment while he’s away. Natacha invites her to stay at her apartment, which has an empty bed because her father, Igor,  is out of town. The next morning, Igor arrives and awkwardly runs into Jeanne. With Natacha’s well-documented disgust for Igor’s girlfriend, her friendship with Jeanne begins to seem more and more like an opportunity for her to play matchmaker.

2

If Pauline at the Beach is a film about learning to lie, then this is a film that more explicitly explores the emotional repercussions of literally lying. The former film is a bit more abstract as the idea is more in lying to yourself, lying about feelings, being willfully delusional for your emotional satisfactions. Here, the lying is more evident, though it should be worth mentioning that it is more about Natacha’s withholding of information. Perhaps that’s not lying, but we still are left to deduce if she intentionally forgets to tell Jeanne about her father coming back with the hope of creating a spark between the two. It’s something of a mystery film that never gets a payoff, which isn’t exactly uncharacteristic for Rohmer himself. Full Moon in Paris has a similar quality, though we eventually get a conclusion that ties the narrative together. Here, it could not be more open-ended.

3

The crux of the film is the relationship involving Natacha and Jeanne. While most of the discussions are about potential romances or romantic relationships already in progress, this is one of the few Rohmer films where the motivation for such love isn’t the central driving force. It’s a friendship film, but it’s troubling in the idea that the friendship might not be legitimate. This sounds kind of corny and perhaps Natacha and Jeanne are still friends even if Natacaha is recruiting Jeanne as a potential stepmom. The film asks the viewer to observe and scrutinize their conversations, which is really the “meat” of any Rohmer film. The big difference here, for me at least, is that I feel like the story is reduced to this idea.

4

This isn’t to say that Jeanne and Natacha aren’t interesting people, and that there’s nothing else to take away from their conversations. Jeanne’s background as a philosophy professor (which comes from Anne Teyssedre’s own life, not Rohmer’s pen) works itself naturally into the director’s typically loquacious universe. This is probably the first time I’ve actually started to believe that the characters are talking too much, if only because their conversations feel a bit too obvious. Natacha’s conversations with Eve when they’re not already arguments, are easy to understand as coming from a place of anger. It’s not a simple film really, but it just feels “easy” (for lack of a better word) within Rohmer’s canon.

5

I want to stress that A Tale of Springtime is still a pretty wonderful film. There’s something to be said about Rohmer’s side-meditations on personal identity. As he did in Full Moon in Paris, he touches on this here by relating it to a person’s place of residence. Once again we have a protagonist that has two apartments, but Jeanne speaks much more negatively of her spaces than Louise in the earlier film. Here, Jeanne utterly detests her boyfriend’s apartment, it’s not her partner but where he lives. Her boyfriend is mentioned passingly and never seen, and Natacha suspects that Jeanne isn’t really attached to him. It’s sort of a brilliant little move. I mean, it’s not as though we are always surrounded by the most important people in our lives, especially during the moments Rohmer finds the most interesting. There’s something to be said about Rohmer’s meditation on the formal nature of human interaction. His insights continue to be stunning, but this film isn’t quite as thick as others. That’s hardly a damning criticism.

6

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One response

15 12 2013
Bruce Perkins

Rohmer asked Anne Teyssèdre what job she’d like her character to have. As she’d been doing an all-action series involving airforce pilots, by way of contrast she suggested a philosophy teacher (not ‘professor’)! She’d done a philosophy degree. This chimed well with Rohmer’s plans – two of the other Season films treat philosophy as well (like My Night at Maud’s). Rohmer had originally given Jeanne’s boyfriend a screen presence, then realized he’d be far more dramatic if he remained invisible. We are always left to draw our own conclusions at the end of Rohmer’s films.

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