The third in Eric Rohmer's "four seasons" cycle and the last to get a U.S. release, "A Summer's Tale" (1996) is a film of the last century. Like many films by the late French New Wave icon, it's full of talk -- talk which, for all its philosophy and even poetry, is oftentimes beside the point.
When Gaspard (Melvil Poupaud) arrives by ferry at a resort in Brittany, he is both purposeful and distracted. He clearly isn't familiar with the house that he enters, but he makes himself at home. His physical attitude bespeaks considerable ego, and yet he's unsure of himself. And evidently preoccupied.
He reveals later to Margot (Amanda Langlet), the glorious waitress who's been flirting with him to little effect, that he's waiting for a woman -- but the viewer already knows. The viewer also knows Gaspard's existing relationship is on thin ice, that for the aspiring musician and recent math student, nothing is adding up. Rohmer has given us everything we need to know about Gaspard via camera movement, body language, light and rhythm. The audience is flattered, because it's been made to feel prescient. But what it's really experiencing is virtuosic filmmaking.
Rohmer -- screenwriter, director, critic, novelist, contemporary of Truffaut and Godard -- died in 2010, leaving behind such films as "My Night at Maud's" and "Pauline at the Beach" (in which Langlet played the title character). He was of a seemingly endangered school of thought that believes visual elements are the equal of narrative or dialogue.
Gaspard evades obvious happiness with Margot, then begins a relationship with Solene (Gwenaëlle Simon), with whom he becomes besotted, until the heinous Lena (Aurelia Nolin) finally arrives, reignites his passion for her, and treats him like a doormat.
For all his seeming facility with the opposite sex, Gaspard is really a romantic idiot. And aren't we all, Rohmer suggests.
PLOT In Brittany to meet his sort-of girlfriend for a sort-of summer holiday, a recent university graduate totally complicates his love life.
CAST Melvil Poupaud, Amanda Langlet, Gwenaëlle Simon, Aurelia Nolin
BOTTOM LINE Masterful, magical, time-capsuled portrait of the politics of mating and the perversities of fate. (In French with English subtitles.)