I CAN'T think of a better way to relax, smell the wild lavender and dream of better things ahead than to watch "Autumn Tale."
Eric Rohmer's delicate ode to love in the autumn years, set in the French countryside, blooms like time with an old friend. Against the hyped-up, noisy mediocrity that passes for summer entertainment in most multiplexes, this is like having Beaujolais piped directly into the soul.
At the Cinema on Wisconsin Avenue, where "Autumn Tale" is playing, the screen is vast, the speakers full and omnipresent. Instead of booming for the likes of "Fatal Attraction" or "The Empire Strikes Back," which they have done over the years, these speakers will boom twittering birds, buzzing bees and French accents. I only wish they offered wine, baguettes and Berlitz home-study tapes at the concession stand.
In "Autumn Tale," or "Conte d'automne" if you don't need those Berlitz tapes, Isabelle (Marie Riviere) is a bookseller who feels that her divorced friend, Magali (Beatrice Romand), a 45-year-old vintner in the Cote du Rhone countryside, needs a partner. Magali may be stubborn, caustic and set in her ways, but she's also perceptive, interesting and attractive. She deserves someone.
Without informing Magali of her agenda, Isabelle places a personal advertisement in the local paper. When she gets a promising reply from Gerald (Alain Libolt), a middle-aged man in need of someone special, she agrees to meet him for lunch.
At the meeting, Isabelle doesn't tell Gerald she's representing a friend. Poor Gerald, trying to assess Isabelle as a potential mate, develops an interest in the attractive bookseller. But he can't help feeling suspicious about her reluctance to divulge too much, and her insistence on meeting him only at lunchtime.
Meanwhile, there's another plan afoot to get a mate for Magali. The young, beautiful Rosine (Alexia Portal), who is dating Magali's son, has her own ideas for a match: Etienne (Didier Sandre), a philosophy professor whom Rosine used to date.
Unaware of each other's schemes, Isabelle and Rosine conspire to have Magali "accidentally" bump into their respective candidates at the upcoming wedding of Isabelle's daughter. It's a deliciously tricky situation all around. Ultimately, Isabelle's going to have to spill les legumes to Magali and Etienne. And sooner or later, when the fiercely independent Magali learns of all these machinations, she's unlikely to be pleased.
To add even more spice to the soup, Isabelle and Rosine aren't completely detached from the men they're trying to set up with Magali.
This movie completes Rohmer's latest cycle of films called "Tales of the Four Seasons." He started his career with a series called "Six Moral Tales" in the 1960s, and continued with "Comedies et Proverbs" (including the wonderful "Pauline at the Beach") before "Seasons."
Between these series, Rohmer has made other films, including the fairly recent, sweet "Rendez-Vous in Paris." But his films share similar predilections and themes: Rohmer's deep interest in men, women and their differences; how one's locale -- urban, suburban or rural -- affects one's personality and soul; and the bewildering, frustrating and exciting exigencies of love in all its forms.
A toast to the 79-year-old Rohmer (deep in his autumn years) for making us care whether two people (neither one of them in their twenties with their own TV sitcom series, album contract or MTV video!) will get together or not. More power to him for making us sip and savor every single character. We learn more about the minor characters in "Autumn Tale" than we would about most major ones in the average Hollywood star-driven knockoff. And more power to you for deciding to watch a movie that dares you to slow down and enjoy the subtleties of life. Bottoms up!
AUTUMN TALE (PG, 112 minutes) -- Contains nothing particularly offensive, although some hairdressers may lapse into an immediate coma when they see Magali's hair. At the Cineplex Odeon Cinema.