“Autumn Tale,” the fourth and final installment in Eric Rohmer’s series named after the four seasons, flirts with various semi-devious approaches to matchmaking among the over-40 set. A typically deftly layered meditation on men, women, friendship and the prospect of romance in the Rhone Valley, pic will definitely tickle helmer’s fans but do nothing to dispel the received wisdom that French movies are slow-moving and talky. Offshore sales are a foregone conclusion in all the usual markets, though in the U.S. Rohmer’s previous stanza , “A Summer’s Tale” (1996), has not yet been distributed.Pic’s initial 45 minutes unspool in a leisurely and deliberate manner, introducing characters and laying essential groundwork, before pic comes to life — after which its quirky pleasures build to a satisfying denouement.
Now in their mid-40s, best friends Magali (Beatrice Romand) and Isabelle (Marie Riviere) have known each other since childhood. Magali, a widow, proudly tends the vineyard she inherited from her parents, but feels lonely out in the country since her two grown children left home. She admits she’d relish the companionship, but her prospects for meeting an available man seem slim.
A complicity that is much spoken of but never believably demonstrated unites Magali and Rosine (Alexia Portal), the firecracker girlfriend of her bland son Leonce. College student Rosine is still attracted to her previous lover, Etienne (Didier Sandre), a handsome bachelor more than twice her age, who was her high school philosophy teacher. Deciding it will never truly be “over” between her and Etienne until Etienne gets himself a new girlfriend, Rosine conspires to introduce Etienne to Magali.
Book-shop owner Isabelle lives in town with her husband of 24 years, and they will soon be marrying their daughter. Determined to find a suitable guy for Magali, Isabelle secretly places a lonely hearts ad and filters the responses. Using her own name but appropriating Magali’s background, Isabelle starts to “date” one of the men who replies, Gerald (Alain Libolt, in a splendid turn). Only when she begins to “test drive” Gerald does the crafty humor of Isabelle’s machination — and the film itself — kick in.
Laid-back and methodical proceedings are sometimes stilted and borderline tedious, particularly in the opening stretch. Although most of what the characters say and do is so mundane the viewer feels like an eavesdropper plunked down in the vineyards and scenic towns near Avignon, Libolt radiates a suave allure that makes the intrigue leap off the screen. His scenes with Riviere and, to a lesser extent, Romand, are the high points in a narrative so even-keeled it never breaks a sweat.
Romand and Riviere, whose work with Rohmer stretches back 28 (“Claire’s Knee”) and 20 years (“Perceval le Gallois”), respectively, make middle age more appealing than newcomer Portal’s bubbly, assertive youth. Unlike many Rohmer outings, this is primarily a story about grown-ups and what makes people tick once their personalities are fully formed.
Shot on a shoestring with a smaller crew than most student films, pic captures, with simple visual strokes, the ordinary but timeless tints of autumn in the Ardeche, Drome and Vaucluse jurisdictions near the Rhone river.
Music is limited to live entertainment at the wedding in the final quarter-hour but is sprightly and appealing, sending viewers out on a literally high note.