Sunday, 6 February 2011

A Summer's Tale

This is the second in Eric Rohmer's Four Seasons quartet of films. Set in Dinard in Brittany, the film charts the romantic journey of Gaspard one summer as he awaits the start of a new job. Having recently completed his Masters in Maths, Gaspard gets off the ferry and finds his friends house where he plans to await the arrival of Lena. The film covers three weeks of a Breton summer.

As he waits Gaspard fills his time with swimming, walking, sun-bathing and composing songs on his guitar. He encounters Margot, a waitress working at her aunties creperie. Margot has herself recently completed a PhD in ethnography and the two of them spend much time together walking the coast and conducting philosophical debates about the nature of relationships and love.  Margot persuades Gaspard to go to a disco with her and her friends. It is here that he meets Solene and afterwards Margot alerts Gaspard to the fact that Solene has the hots for Gaspard. Gaspard begins to see Solene whilst continuing to see Margot as he waits for Lena.

The problem Gaspard faces is that he is unable to make a choice. He prefers to intellectualise romance and play philosophical games. Whichever of the two girls he is with is the the girl he is madly in love with - but he cannot commit just in case Lena proves to be an even bigger catch. Margot is self-assured, charming, attractive and refreshingly straight-forward. Solene is flirtatious but always wants everything on her terms and sees nothing wrong in stringing two or three boys along at the same time. Lena doesn't arrive until three-quarters of the way through he film.

With each of the three Gaspard attempts to clumsily paw and kiss them. Each rejects his advances for different reasons. Margot because he is intent on Lena and/or Solene and in any case her boyfriend is due to return from overseas. Solene because she likes to play games and toy with her catch and Lena - well that's simply the way Lena is.

Gaspard's intellectualisation of commitment and love blinds him to the fact that Margot is throwing herself at his feet and offers so much to a potential relationship. His mind is seduced by Solene who is more of a sexual tease but whenever things begin to get serious in that department she withdraws citing her principles. Lena is the big prize that Gaspard holds out for as her enigmatic mind-games and pouting tantrums seem only to increase her level of attraction to Gaspard.

Unable to disentangle his mind from the fact that he has got three girls in tow at the same time, he manages to set up a trip with each in turn to the same island destination at the same time and then is unable to get himself out of the fix. Out of the blue, a friend calls with the offer of a deal on an eight-track recorder and as quickly as the ferry delivered Gaspard, he departs on it immediately for a tryst with a tape recorder in La Rochelle. All of which demonstrates that the only true passion in Gaspard's life is music and that girls are nothing more than an intellectual interest.

That well educated, maturing twenty-somethings could allow themselves to get caught up in such shallow and empty mind-games is a surprise. That each of the three women are in different ways very attractive is not.  The film maintains the tension of latent sexuality fervently simmering throughout - I was expecting sexual activity to spontaneously erupt at any point, but it never does. There are kisses with Solene and Lena and when Gaspard attempts the same with Margot she gently but firmly repulses his advances. It is as Margot and Gaspard stand on the jetty as he waits to board the ferry that will take him away that we see the first and only really passionate kiss - and that at Margot's inception. A literal taste of what he will be missing because of his pursuit in women of unreachable perfection - and for him in the pre-eminent sphere of music, an eight-track tape recorder! There are no winners in this story.

An interesting but ultimately frustrating film. I'll give it 6.5/10.

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