The Romance of Astrea and Celadon (Les amours d'Astrée et de Céladon) Review
Gaul, the fifth century AD. Celadon (Andy Gillet) is in love with the beautiful Astrea (Stéphanie Crayencour). But one day Celadon is accused of infidelity and as a result Astrea dismisses him, so he vows to stay away from her forever and throws himself into a river. He is rescued by Galathée, a nymph (Véronique Reymond) and nursed back to health. Celadon wants to be reunited with Astrea – but how can he do so without breaking his vow?
Eric Rohmer's career has spanned fifty-six years, from his 1950 short Journal d'un scélérat to this film. He is best known for his three series: the six Moral Tales (two shorts and four features), the Comedies and Proverbs (six features) and the four features which make up the Tales of the Four Seasons. Yet of his remaining features, there is another subgroup which is not such a formal series: the historical drama, more often than not a literary adaptation. (2004's Triple Agent is the exception, being an original screenplay. It's also technically period rather than historical, as it is set in the 1930s, within Rohmer's lifetime.) Rohmer's historicals tend to be more cinematically experimental than his contemporary films. Between the Moral Tales and the Comedies and Proverbs he made the German-language The Marquise of O and Perceval, with deliberately artificial sets. Leaving aside the 1980 TV film Catherine of Heilbronn, which I haven't seen (it's available on DVD in France as part of a two-disc set with The Marquise of O, but as it has no subtitles this is useless except for those fluent in French), we move on to the new Millennium. After the last Season, he made The Lady and the Duke, exploring the possibilities of digital video to produce non-realistic painting-like backgrounds. The Romance of Astrea and Celadon is unrealistic in another way: although set in the fifth century, as an opening caption tells us, it's a fifth century as seen through the lens of the seventeenth, the time of the Honoré d'Urfé novel (L'Astrée) which the film is based on.
This film is like many artists's late works: a bringing together of Rohmer's historical pieces with a storyline that could have fitted in any of his contemporary series. It's a relaxed, gently humourous, lightly erotic work, made with a simplicity that, as ever with Rohmer, disguises great craftsmanship. The historicals are not among my favourites of Rohmer's work, but I found this a delight. The storyline takes some unlikely turns – such as Celadon disguising himself as a woman so as to be near Astrea – but disbelief is readily suspended. This isn't really an actor's piece, but the two leads are affecting, and certainly easy on the eye. In a nod to Rohmer's early career, Marie Rivière turns up briefly and unbilled as Celadon's mother. Diane Baratier's photography, shot on Super 16mm, glows.
Rohmer completed Astrea and Celadon in 2006, at the age of eighty-six. As I write this (February 2009), he is two months away from his eighty-ninth birthday. He has not said that this will definitely be his last film, although he has no immediately pressing ideas and wishes to take a break. If we leave out Leni Riefenstahl as an anomaly (she released a compilation of her underwater footage to mark her hundredth birthday, but that was her first directorial credit in forty-eight years), there are very few people who have directed films at that age or older: Manoel de Oliveira and Joris Ivens spring to mind. (Anyone else?) So if this is to be Rohmer's final work, it's a fitting farewell from one of the cinema's most distinctive directors.
The Romance of Astrea and Celadon is released by Artificial Eye on a dual-layered disc encoded for Region 2 only. Incidentally, the cover slick supplied with the checkdisc has a number of inaccuracies on it: the DVD is not 16:9 enchanced nor has it a 5.1 soundtrack, and there is no filmography amongst the extras on the disc.
The aspect ratio of this DVD is 1.33:1. Because of the film's limited UK distribution, this was the first Rohmer film I had failed to see on UK cinema release in twenty years, so I cannot confirm a theatrical aspect ratio. The IMDB claims 1.85:1, but a look at almost any shot would tell you that that is nonsense. Certainly 1.33:1 is entirely possible on past experience, and a crop to 1.66:1 would not be disastrous. Diane Baratier's camerawork is bright and sunny: colours are strong and blacks solid. Given the 16mm origins, the picture is a little soft and grain is noticeable if not distracting.
There are two soundtrack options: a surround-encoded Dolby Digital 2.0 track and another in the odd configuration of 3.0 – left, centre, right. Either way the film is pretty much monophonic, with the surround only really coming to life in the scenes by the river. Subtitles are optional.
The only extra is the theatrical trailer, which is certainly brief – it runs all of 47 seconds.