(Conte d’Hiver)

Directed by Eric Rohmer. 1992.

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As an admirer of Eric Rohmer, and having seen (almost) all of his many films, I recently revisited this 1992 offering from his “Tales of the Four Seasons” cycle. I regard it not only as the best of that cycle (the “Springtime” and “Summer” films are admittedly rather thin) but certainly as among his half-dozen finest films, along with My Night With Maud, Claire’s Knee, Percival, and The Green Ray.

The title is a direct reference to the Shakespeare play, an extract from which comprises a key scene in the film, except that the play is called The Winter’s Tale. The indefinite article in the film’s English title (no article at all in the French) indicates that it is just one of countless stories which could have been told, though there is a clear thematic link to the Shakespeare.

As in many other Rohmer films, the protaganist is a somewhat irritating young woman who cannot seem to make up her mind. Felicie (Charlotte Very, perhaps best-known as Lucille in Kieslowski’s Three Colours Blue) meets and falls in love with Charles while on holiday; the first few minutes are the most sexually explicit scenes in all Rohmer, which may not be saying much. Something of a scatterbrain, as she readily admits, she mistakenly gives him the wrong address (it’s the name of her town which she gets wrong, would you believe!). We then skip to “five years later” when Felicie, with daughter Elise, cannot decide between two men, a hairdresser and an intellectual librarian, while secretly being still in love with Elise’s father Charles. Her confusion is illustrated by her sudden decision to move from Paris to Nevers with the hairdresser, and her equally sudden decision to return a day or two later.

Like The Green Ray, the film ends with a kind of miracle, strongly prefigured when she is taken to see the Shakespeare play which ends with a statue coming to life. This scene is itself prefigured when she unexpectedly finds herself praying in the cathedral at Nevers, the two scenes being linked by a musical theme. We also briefly see, in the cathedral chapel, the preserved body of St. Bernadette, a kind of recumbent statue which will not return to life. (We can also speculate whether Rohmer’s choice of Nevers was at all influenced by the fact that one of the most famous “new wave” films, Resnais’ Hiroshima mon Amour, was set there.)

A Winter’s Tale contains most of Rohmer’s trademarks: some brief beach holiday scenes at the beginning, lots of location shots of Paris streets and metro, some pseudo-intellectual conversations about Pascal and Catholicism (in which Felicie is out of her depth), some probably-improvised dialogue, especially in the scenes with the child Elise, and one or two familiar faces from other Rohmer films in minor parts. In particular I noticed for the first time (at the third viewing) that the tiny role of a character called Dora was played by the delightful Marie Riviere, the lead in The Green Ray and the co-star of An Autumn Tale.

A Winter’s Tale is a moving, magical, exceptionally well-acted film by a man who in my view is certainly the finest living French director. In his old age, and a new century, he has proved flexible enough to venture successfully into new genres with The Lady and the Duke and Triple Agent. But Rohmer will always be best known for his talky, witty, utterly delightful portraits of young people in real or imagined love, exemplified by this 1992 classic.

Alan Pavelin
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