A Tale of Springtime Review

Jeanne (Anne Teyssèdre) is a philosophy teacher who meets Natasha (Florence Darel), a rather younger music student, at a party. They become friends quickly, and spend the next few days in Natasha’s father Igor’s (Hugues Quester) Paris apartment and countryside home in Fontainebleau. Soon, Jeanne suspects that Natasha is trying to matchmake, despite Jeanne having a boyfriend already and despite the presence of Igor’s girlfriend Eve (Eloïse Bennett)…

In 1987, Eric Rohmer completed his six-feature Comedies and Proverbs series with My Girlfriend’s Boyfriend. He was sixty-seven, but had no plans to retire. After an hour-long film for TV, Les jeux de société in 1989, Rohmer began a third series, The Tales of the Four Seasons, of which A Tale of Springtime (Conte de printemps) was the first.

At first, A Tale of Springtime seems like one more variation on the themes of the Comedies and Proverbs. But there are differences: Jeanne is somewhat older than the heroines of the earlier series (Natasha could easily have been one). However, on the whole, this film does seem like a test run for the further excursions Rohmer would take with his favoured subject matter. As such, A Tale of Springtime does have its pleasures – the dialogue is as witty and revealing as you might expect, and the performances can’t be faulted. The cinematography is the work of Luc Pagès, who had worked with Rohmer on the previous TV film and also went on to shoot A Winter’s Tale. His work gives the film a light, low-key feel that’s just right for the season it depicts.

However, A Tale of Springtime is minor Rohmer, though fans will certainly want to see it if they haven’t already. I’m not sure they will be returning to it as often as its three followup Seasons though.

A Tale of Springtime was the first of the Four Seasons in the cinema, but the last one to be released on DVD by Artificial Eye. It is still available singly, but on 9 October 2006 was reissued as part of Artificial Eye’s Tales of the Four Seasons. If you don’t have most, or all, of the DVDs already than this is certainly a cost-effective way of obtaining them. As with the other three discs, A Tale of Springtime is encoded for Region 2 only.

Shot in 35mm, A Tale of Springtime comes to DVD in its original aspect ratio of 1.66:1, though not anamorphically enhanced. Pages’s camerawork is faithful to the aesthetic used by the late Nestor Almendros on the seven features he photographed for Rohmer: natural light where possible, and if not lighting should still be justified. (That holds even in such a visually stylised film as Perceval.) Given the lowish budget and the use of real locations (and presumably a faster film stock) there’s a light grain to the image, but it’s not displeasing. It’s nothing compared to a 16mm-blowup like The Green Ray for graininess.

As ever, the soundtrack is mono. The all-important dialogue is always clear (and subtitles are optional, if your French is good enough) and well balanced with the sound effects and pieces of Mozart and Schumann which which it shares the soundtrack.

All of Artificial Eye’s Four Seasons DVDs have the same three extras. One of them are a Rohmer biography and filmography, which is accurate up to 2004’s film Triple Agent. Also present is the trailer, which runs 1:43.

The other three Seasons DVDs contain short featurettes of around ten minutes each, in which Rohmer (audio only) discusses certain aspects of the film to hand against appropriate clips of the film and others. The DVD of A Tale of Springtime is different. Against long extracts from the film, we hear Rohmer being interviewed by Serge Daney for a French television programme, Minifilm. Daney introduces the talk by saying that it is unusual in taking place a month after the film’s release, when its public fate is already known. (A strike had prevented a more timely interview.) This featurette is four times as long (39:53) as its equivalents on other discs and suffers from rambling and a lack of focus – too much of the late Daney, not enough Rohmer. That said, some interesting information does emerge from it.

A Tale of Springtime is few people’s favourite Rohmer, and it certainly isn’t mine. That said, established fans will still not need my recommendation to seek it out. Newcomers to his work had best start elsewhere.

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