Tales of the Four Seasons Review
Most of Eric Rohmer’s output belongs to three series: The Six Moral Tales comprises two shorts and four features made between 1962 and 1972, and is currently available as a box set from Criterion. In the 1980, Rohmer made his second series, the Comedies and Proverbs, six features between 1981 and 1987. By then, Rohmer was sixty-seven, but he showed no signs of retiring. So he embarked on a third series, the Tales of the Four Seasons.
A Tale of Springtime (Conte de printemps) (1990)
A young philosophy teacher stays with a younger friend and believes that her friend is trying to match her with her friend’s father, despite them both being attached. A Tale of Springtime seems a slight variation on the themes of the Comedies and Proverbs, although its protagonist is a little older than the heroines of the earlier films. Rohmer’s strengths in dialogue and the performances he gets from his cast cannot be faulted, but somehow this soufflé doesn’t rise as it should.
A Winter’s Tale (Conte d'hiver) (1992)
A young woman has lost touch with the man she fell in love with on a holiday and who is the father of her young daughter. Rohmer moves into Kieslowski territory here, extending the themes of fate and chance from The Green Ray. The result is one of Rohmer’s finest films, bringing about an ending that in lesser hands could be an outrageously unlikely coincidence and making it moving and satisfying.
A Summer’s Tale (Conte d'été) (1996)
After A Winter’s Tale, Rohmer broke from the series by making two films: the portmanteau film Rendez-vous à Pais and the political satire The Tree, The Mayor and the Mediatheque, the latter being the only Rohmer feature never to have had a British release. A Summer’s Tale harks back to the Moral Tales in its use of a male protagonist, a shy young man on holiday in Dinard, who finds himself juggling the attentions of three young women. Rohmer is back on form here, with a film that slips down effortlessly.
An Autumn Tale (Conte d'automne) (1998)
Rohmer rings the changes yet again: again we have two women at the heart of the film, but this time they are middle-aged. What’s more they are played by two actresses – Marie Rivière and Béatrice Romand – who have worked with the director many times previously. Warm and witty, An Autumn Tale brings the Four Seasons to a fitting close.
Rohmer was seventy-eight when An Autumn Tale was released, and many people took the film as the conscious ending of a long career. However, Rohmer has continued to work into his eighties and shows no signs of retiring yet.
Artificial Eye’s Tales of the Four Seasons box set collects together the four discs previously released. Each film is on a single dual-layered disc, encoded for Region 2 only.
A Tale of Springtime and A Winter’s Tale are presented in their original ratio of 1.66:1, while A Summer’s Tale and An Autumn Tale are 4:3 open-matte. Despite what the covers say, none of them are “enhanced for widescreen televisions”. Given the low-budget and frequent use of natural-light shooting, there’s a faint grain to these films, but it’s not displeasing and is the way these films looked in a cinema. A Winter’s Tale is particularly grainy, looking as if most of it was shot in 16mm and blown up, something I have been unable to confirm.
The soundtracks are all mono. Autumn Tale was Rohmer’s first film with a Dolby soundtrack, though it sounds perfectly monophonic to me. Again, this is faithful to the way the films sounded in the cinema. Music, effects and the all-important dialogue are well balanced. If your French is fluent enough, you can switch the subtitles off.
Each disc has three extras, two of which are the theatrical trailer and a biography and filmography of Rohmer which goes up to his 2004 film Triple Agent. The remaining extra on each disc is an interview with Rohmer. Three of these are short pieces, around ten minutes each, where Rohmer discusses particular aspects of the film at hand. The exception is the interview on A Tale of Springtime, which is a forty-minute interview conducted by Serge Daney.
Rohmer’s work as a director is consistent enough so that different people will have their favourites amongst his films, To this long-standing fan, the Four Seasons contain one of Rohmer’s masterpieces, two others which are well up to standard and one that doesn’t quite come off. The only reason fans should not buy this box set would be that they had the four DVDs already.