Film Review: A Summer's Tale

<i>Auteur </i>Eric Rohmer&#8217;s sweet 1996 tale about a vacationing young man&#8217;s few weeks seaside as he awaits a girlfriend who may or may not show up is breezy and slight. But the first theatrical release of the feature stateside and a flawles

A Summer’s Tale is another of Eric Rohmer’s easy-on-the-brain, nerves and eyes films, giving us some completely likeable young people with largely unfamiliar faces but familiar dilemmas. Rohmer famously had a gift for discovering young talent and, with seemingly remarkable ease, making their performances look professional and oh so true-to-life. Helping in this mission was the uncomplicated dialogue of screenplays replete with an apparent spontaneity and undeniable truths.

Like many of his other films, this nice restoration has a simple premise: A recent university graduate—the serious Gaspard (as played by an early twenty-something Melvil Poupaud) is spending a few vacation weeks on the Breton seaside as he awaits a new job and, more pressingly, his sort-of-girlfriend Léna (Aurélia Nolin), a pleasure-prone young woman who possibly won’t show up.

While Gaspard walks the beaches, he shares his thoughts with new acquaintance Margot (Amanda Langlet), another contemporary who betrays a casual interest in him but apparently has a boyfriend. Gaspard enjoys her companionship and is comfortable sharing his worries. But he’s mopey and hoping at the most that Léna will show up or at the least that he’ll find a woman for some summer involvement.

The fact that Gaspard observes so many couplings, whether on the beach or at clubs and cafés, doesn’t help matters, nor do his antisocial tendencies and reluctance to speak with strangers. In fact, Gaspard, as he explains to Margot, may have a debilitating complex when it comes to romance. That may disappear.

If Margot, an ethnologist working as a waitress, won’t be the one for Gaspard (assuming Léna is a no-show), her friend Solène (Gwenaëlle Simon), whose Uncle Alain (Alain Guellaff) lives nearby, might be a contender. She’s an amateur singer and Gaspard is a casual composer and guitar player. The two seem on the verge of connecting on both the music and romantic fronts. Alain invites the two over. Gaspard seems to be lucking out until Solène insists she doesn’t sleep with guys she’s just met.

His interaction with Solène creates tension with Margot, and before this is sorted out, he unexpectedly bumps into Léna, who has arrived at the seaside town from Spain. She’s a superficial chatterbox who extends the backhanded compliment that Gaspard’s best at a distance, like a great painting. But soon he has more romantic options than anticipated; where his little summer adventure ends amounts to another sweet Rohmer irony.

While Rohmer has directed some fanciful historical films and the unequaled brainteaser My Night With Maud (which brilliantly wove some weighty religious and philosophical notions into its gentle romantic drama), A Summer’s Tale is representative of Rohmer-lite, especially his seasonal “Tale” series and similar fare.

Besides youth and harmless romantic conflicts, Rohmer liked to focus on different seasons, and why not? The seasons, summer especially, are so atmospheric and weighted with many good associations and memories, all of which makes A Summer’s Tale a nice cinematic diversion for any season. Above all, it’s the moppy-haired Poupaud and his ease with both camera and role that are worth attention here.

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