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'A Tale of Winter'

By Hal Hinson
Washington Post Staff Writer
July 08, 1994


Eric Rohmer
Frederic Van Dren Driessche;
Charlotte Very;
Michel Voletti;
Herve Furic
Not rated

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At the beginning of "A Tale of Winter," French director Eric Rohmer's tender, exquisitely graceful love story, the camera captures a pair of young lovers in the midst of a summer idyll so sun-dappled and romantic that it verges on cliche. Like Watteau nymphs, Charles (Frederic Van Dren Driessche) and Felicie (Charlotte Very) indulge themselves in the sensual bliss of their blossoming new love, splashing about nude in the surf, napping and sweetly making love. On their faces is an expression of sublime innocence and contentment and hopeful expectation. As their vacation ends, Felicie scribbles down her address for Charles and boards her train for home, certain that soon, she and her lover will be together again.

Suddenly, as a title informs us, it's five years later.

Charles and Felicie never found each other or even spoke after parting. By mistake, Felicie gave him the wrong address. And because Charles, who's an American, was moving around a lot, he didn't give her his. "A dumb glitch," Felicie says.

Since then, Felicie has made an effort to go on with her life. At present, she is involved with not one, but two, men. The first, Maxence (Michel Voletti), a largish, supposedly cultivated man who manages the hair salon where she works, has left his wife so the two of them can run off together. The second, Loic (Herve Furic), looks closer to her age and works as a librarian.

But neither of them is a great love, not like Charles. As she and Maxence stroll the cramped streets of Nevers together, sightseeing and smooching, it's apparent that she feels affection for this cuddly bear of a guy but not the spark of excitement she felt with Charles, or the sense of belonging.

In fact, Charles is a constant presence in her life because of the daughter he fathered but never saw. As Felicie talks about the love she has lost, explaining to both her current suitors that her heart still belongs to him, she begins to take on the look of a tragic dreamer who has sacrificed her life to an impossible ideal.

For three decades, Rohmer has been one of the cinema's most challenging, literate voices, and in "A Tale of Winter" -- the second installment in his "Tales of Four Seasons" -- he builds his story with the same intelligence and passion for detail that he has in the past. But while much of the director's recent work has been dry and inconsequential, "A Tale of Winter" has the feel of vital and ambiguous life.

As usual, the characters reveal themselves through brilliant talk, debating incessantly with their friends and feeling out their own ideas in the process. Felicie's friends -- Loic and Maxence included -- think she is a fool; some even imply that the relationship meant more to her than it did to Charles -- that Charles had his fling and moved on.

Felicie is one of Rohmer's strongest characters in years. Stubborn, willful, and petulantly self-centered, she is a tremendous pain, going where she likes and hurting whomever she pleases. For most of the picture, her blather about Charles seems to spring from some neurotic delusion designed to protect herself from getting involved with the people in front of her.

Still, she believes with her whole heart that Charles longs for her just the same as she longs for him, and knows just as surely that their love was special. Their daughter is proof. In almost every aspect, Felicie is an ordinary woman; only by clinging to this love is she distinguished. Her lover may or may not ever appear, but, in the end, the longing itself becomes heroic. And ultimately, of greater importance than even the lover. Rohmer's "A Tale of Winter" is like a minimalist short story, measured, nuanced and rich with intimations. It's a small work, but nearly perfect.

A Tale of Winter is unrated.

© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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