Summer of Rohmer: The Romance of Astrea and Celadon (2007)

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I am ending my Summer of Rohmer series with a film set in the spring. Yes, it is a shocking betrayal of the series’ seasonal brand, but I was eager to revisit The Romance of Astrea and Celadon (2007), and extend my stay in Rohmer’s world. Over the last six weeks I have traveled to a variety of France’s hottest vacation spots for romantic anxiety, from a Saint-Tropez country house in La Collectionneuse (1967) to Dinard, the beachside town in A Summer’s Tale (1997).  The Romance of Astrea and Celadon transported me to the valley of the Sioule in Auvergne, a bucolic green landscape for star-crossed lovers in 5th-century Gaul to suffer in. For his final feature (he passed away in 2010), Rohmer adapted Honoré d’Urfé’s L’Astree (ca. 1607 – 1627), a 5,000 page hit at the royal courts. Rohmer focused on the spine of the digressive novel – the romance between the shepherd Celadon and the shepherdess Astrea, and the miscommunication, madness, and masquerades that delay their union. Though set millennia in the past, the film works over familiar Rohmerian ground, as it ponders the nature of love and fidelity, while trying to square the contradictory impulses of each.

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Summer of Rohmer: A Summer’s Tale (1996)

 

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My summer of Rohmer enters its fifth week by docking at the rocky Breton seaside town of Dinard, the location of A Summer’s Tale (1996). Like all of Eric Rohmer’s summer vacation films, it is about hesitation and uncertainty, the holidays a transient borderland before the return to adulthood, when decisions have to be made. A Summer’s Tale involves a moody engineering student and hopeful musician named Gaspard who is romantically entangled with three women on the beach. He is entranced by the idea of love but is rather afraid of the physical reality, and masters the art of the indeterminate reply, a master of escape. One of Rohmer’s few male protagonists (the film often feels like a throwback to the masculine bull sessions of the Moral Tales), Gaspard is reported to be a highly autobiographical character who runs through a composite of events from the director’s life. Rohmer doesn’t look back with nostalgia, but with a lucid gimlet eye, his Gaspard one of high ideals and evasive, indecisive actions. A Summer’s Tale is streaming on Netflix, and is available on DVD from Big World Pictures.

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July 9, 2016
David Kalat
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Gracie Allen Finds the Perfect Man

College students are coming to the Hotel Casa Del Mar–in pairs they come, two by two. It’s a veritable Noah’s Ark for young scholars. Why they have come is a matter of some debate, however. The new manager of the Casa Del Mar (Jack Benny) has told the coeds that they are going to be the summer entertainment for the hotel, a promotional gimmick to help rope in some tourists. And sure enough, he gets them to put on a show, full of elaborate song and dance numbers. But that’s just a ruse–the hotel’s deep in debt to a socialite (Mary Boland) with a fixation on using eugenics to engineer a new super-race, and the students are going to be her unwitting guinea pigs.

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KEYWORDS: Ben Blue, Frank Tuttle, George Burns, Gracie Allen, Jack Benny, Martha Raye
COMMENTS: 6
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Summer of Rohmer: Pauline at the Beach (1983)

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Welcome to the third week of my Summer of Rohmer, in which I fill the void of my own vacation-less summer by vicariously joining the beach holidays of Eric Rohmer’s neurotic, attractive, and hyper-articulate characters. I started the series by visiting a Saint-Tropez cottage in La Collectionneusefollowed with a scenic French Alps home in Claire’s Knee, while today I scurried off to a Normandy beach house in Pauline at the Beach. We have leapt from Rohmer’s cycle of “Moral Tales” to his “Comedies and Proverbs”, as well as his shift to female protagonists (which began with his previous film A Good Marriage (1982)). Pauline at the Beach (1983) is set during the waning weeks of summer, with Marion (Arielle Dombasle) bringing her 15-year-old niece Pauline (Amanda Langlet) to spend a few parent-less weeks before they both have to return to work and school. There is a pressure to find friends and have a fling before the holiday runs out. The waifish blonde Marion is immediately pursued by two men, the dewy-eyed romantic Pierre (Pascal Greggory) and the older, pragmatic womanizer Henri (Feodor Atkine). Rohmer frames the film around Pauline’s observations. She is a quiet, almost background presence throughout, silently weighing Marion’s actions as she falls for Henri and keeps Pierre on her string. Rohmer leads off his Comedies and Proverbs films with a quote, and here it is one from Chretien de Troyes: “He who speaks too much does himself harm.” Marion, Pierre, and Henri talk incessantly about the nature of love, but show no knowledge of how to embody it. Instead they remain irrevocably wrapped up inside themselves. I produced the DVD and Blu-ray of Pauline at the Beach for Kino Lorber (complete with an Eric Rohmer interview and a  fine booklet essay by Michelle Orange), so consider that a full disclosure of my biases.

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TCM Star of the Month: Olivia de Havilland @ 100

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The remarkably durable Olivia de Havilland is celebrating her 100th birthday tomorrow. To commemorate the centennial of the actress’s birth, TCM is honoring de Havilland by making her the Star of the Month for July. For the next five weeks, viewers who tune in on Friday night will be able to see a broad selection of her work.

Her abilities and charm made de Havilland one of Hollywood’s most celebrated stars and throughout the 1930s and 40s the actress’s gentle manner and wide-eyed vulnerability led her to frequently play innocent ingénues, damsels in distress or women under duress, most notably in Gone with the Wind (1939). Despite this, I think she was often at her best in films such as The Dark Mirror (1946) and Hush, Hush Sweet Charlotte (1964), which allowed her to flex her acting muscles and exploit the darker aspects of her femininity. She was also a very funny lady and exhibited great comic timing in some of the films airing on TCM in July.

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Summer of Rohmer: Claire’s Knee (1970)

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My Summer of Rohmer continues with Claire’s Knee (1970), the fifth of the director’s Six Moral Tales. It is a story of fidelity and an experiment in desire, in which a betrothed vacationer enters into a flirtation with two teenage girls. As with La Collectionneuse (which I wrote about last week), it takes place within the span of a summer holiday, this time on Lake Annecy in Haute-Savoie. Instead of enjoying the transcendent view of the Alps, Rohmer’s characters debate the nature of love, whether it is an act of will or something more…elusive. Summer is once again used as a crucible to test one’s belief. La Collectionneuse depicts the curdling of male desire outside of Saint-Tropez, while the male protagonist of Claire’s Knee is trying to trigger his lust in an attempt to overcome it.

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Summer of Rohmer: La Collectionneuse (1967)

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Summer has officially arrived, along with the mounting pressure to enjoy it before it passes. The filmmaker who  most deeply investigated the contradictions of the sweaty months is Eric Rohmer, whose summer films contain placid surfaces rippled by violent speech. His characters are surrounded by beauty and inevitably beset by anxieties of how their time there is being wasted, ticking away. Since I have no summer getaway planned, I have chosen instead to get away with Rohmer, by viewing his summer-set films, and writing about them throughout the season. My guide will be the door stopping Eric Rohmer: A Biography (Columbia University Press), by Antoine Baecque and Noël Herpe (newly translated by Steven Rendall and Lisa Neal). First up is La Collectionneuse (1967), part of his series of Six Moral Tales, a chronicle of a poisoned vacation near Saint-Tropez. Two men attempt to subsume themselves in nature, but instead resort to their true selves when a young woman joins the house, whereupon they descend to macho posing and bickering.

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Love Is In the Air: Rome Adventure (1962)

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I marked the arrival of summer by watching one of Delmer Daves’ grandly romantic teen melodramas, Rome Adventure (1962). It is earnestly sweet travelogue about a 21-year-old ex-librarian who seeks her independence in Italy and falls for blonde bombshell Troy Donahue. Like the other films Daves made with Donahue (A Summer Place, Parrish, Susan Slade), Rome Adventure is disarmingly frank about the desires of its randy young characters. Instead it revels in the unstable beauty of these kids and their still-forming moralities. Rome Adventure pairs teen idol Donahue with the plucky, world-weary Suzanne Pleshette, an immensely likable personality to follow for the two-hours of the film’s Roman tour. Much of the film’s pleasures derive from simply walking around Rome with two-good looking kids while admiring Charles Lawton’s Technicolor cinematography. Since I won’t be making any European vacations myself this summer, Rome Adventure will have to do.

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Are the Legends of Tomorrow Already Here?

Today on TCM, the 1982 comedy My Favorite Year airs and it marked Peter O’Toole’s twentieth year as a star.  His stardom began with his breakout role in Lawrence of Arabia in 1962 and continued, with some ups and downs, for the next 50 plus years.  He even has a movie out in 2016, three years after his death.  It’s The Whole World at Our Feet and obviously whatever part he has in it was filmed some time ago.   His career, on the whole, probably has many more duds than hits and his selection wasn’t always the best.  There were long dry spells in his career, enough that his starring role in The Stunt Man, released in 1980, was considered a comeback for him, even though he’d been nominated for Best Actor just eight years prior for The Ruling Class.  The problem was, after The Ruling Class, he appeared in one flop after another.  Still, there’s no doubt that O’Toole left this life a legend and also little doubt that his eventual status as a legend was probably cemented right out of the starting gate with that breakout role as Lawrence.  For many others, the path has not been so clear.

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Injustice Department: Hide in Plain Sight (1980)

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In June of 1967, Thomas Leonhard’s children disappeared. They vanished along with his ex-wife and her new husband. A year later Leonhard would learn that they were given new identities as part of the FBI’s Witness Protection Program. A cement mason in Buffalo, New York, Leonhard spent the next eight years in State and Federal courts trying to win the right to see his two kids. This remarkable story became the subject of Leslie Waller’s true crime novel Hide in Plain Sight, which James Caan would adapt for his directorial debut in 1980. Caan wanted the film to be a “cinema verite kind of thing”, so he shot the film on location in Buffalo, with most of the film unfurling as a low-key docudrama, sticking to the everyday details of Leonhard’s life. United Artists considered it too arty and a money loser, so it did not receive the full support of the studio, despite largely positive critical notices. It has been available on DVD from Warner Archive for a few years, but what led me to Hide in Plain Sight was the Buffalo News’ list of the top ten films shot in Western New York. Buffalo is my hometown, and it hasn’t had much luck on the silver screen, aside from Vincent Gallo’s idiosyncratic Buffalo ’66 and some turn-of-the-century Edison shorts (I am partial to A Trip Around the Pan-American Exposition  (1901)). Locals have always been most proud of The Natural (and its use of Parkside Candy Shop), but for me, Hide in Plain Sight presents a more complete view of the city, from the bars to the factories to the zoo. 

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