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Wednesday, August 25, 1999

Autumn Tale

Posted By on Wed, Aug 25, 1999 at 12:00 AM

With the notable exception of two historical dramas, 79-year-old French writer-director Eric Rohmer seems to have spent the last 40 years making the same film over and over and again.

Rohmer was one of the core members of the French New Wave of directors which coalesced around 1960 — among others were Godard, Truffaut, Chabrol, Resnais and Rivette — and by the end of the decade he had perfected the sort of film he continues to make to this day: very naturalistic and nuanced stories about the relationship between the sexes, filled with that activity which more people indulge in more often than any other. Which, of course, is talking.

In the past Rohmer’s films have often centered around beautiful young women in their early 20s, or younger, but here the two main characters, Isabelle (Marie Rivière) and Magali (Béatrice Romand) are well into their 40s. This may seem like a minor departure but, given the almost compulsive need of Rohmer’s characters to articulate every inner fluctuation, it makes a world of difference — for once the constant chat seems more urgent than airy.

Isabelle manages a bookstore in the city, while her lifelong friend Magali runs a vineyard in the Rhône district of southern France. Isabelle is happily married; Magali is unhappily widowed. When Isabelle suggests that her friend put a personal ad in a newspaper seeking a suitable mate, Magali is — reasonably — hesitant. But Isabelle decides to place an ad anyway, pose as Magali — without telling her — and then screen any likely prospects that might turn up. Naturally, when the first candidate appears, a businessman named Gérald (Alain Libolt, in an exquisitely shaded performance), Isabelle finds herself attracted to him and reluctant to reveal her deception.

Rohmer’s films usually sound like farces when summarized — there’s a subplot here which adds to the intricacy of the various characters’ misunderstandings — but they play out much too leisurely for hilarity to ensue. So instead of laughter, one responds with a smile of recognition, a sigh at the complexity of "ordinary" life and a sense of gratitude at being able to watch an old master once again work his little patch of truth.

Richard C. Walls writes about the arts for the Metro Times. E-mail him at


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