Conte d’hiver / A Tale of Winter (1992)

9 09 2013

With as often as I’ve been watching his films lately, I had the feeling I knew all of Rohmer’s moves. This isn’t to say I was getting tired of watching his films or that they didn’t have the chance to surprise me. Rather, I figured I had an angle for the general tone of his work. A Tale of Winter doesn’t exactly betray this tone, but it certainly plays with the cold, hard realism of the filmmaker’s work set in the contemporary world. This is a film that gives us something of a miracle, after all, but give the man credit: he knew how to make such a miracle feel possible and the film doesn’t conclude with an entirely positive or even cathartic attitude.


Felicie and Charles share a wonderful romance during a vacation on the coast of Brittany. The vacation ends, of course, and the two go their separate ways. Still, they plan to continue communicating. Felicie accidentally gives Charles the wrong address and the relationship seems to end. The films jumps, somewhat jarringly, to five years later. Felicie has a child, Elise (and one can immediately presume Charles as the father) and is involved with two men, Maxence and Loic. She decides on the former when he tells her of his plans to move to Nevers. Felicie and Elise joins him, but things never really click. She returns to Paris to be with Loic, but she can’t stop thinking about Charles.


It’s quite easy to overlook the film’s prologue, which introduces us to Felicie and Charles’ relationship. It’s the sort of thing that Rohmer could leave out entirely, and had hinted at with only Felicie’s words. It’s crucial, though, because the scene itself is so moving when we’re given the context of the film’s present. It’s not just that it establishes this relationship, but it makes one sympathetic to Felicie’s rather grand and romantic sentiments towards Charles. Throughout the film, her conversations about him lead those around her to dismiss her as crazy. They’re somewhat justified in doing so: she hasn’t seen Charles for over five years. Take the perspective of someone talking to Felicie and you can see why she’s hung up. After all, Charles is Elise’s daughter. But because of the formalities of life, the easiest response one could give her is to move on.


For a good portion of the film, Felicie is working on moving on. She’s involved with two men and somewhat remarkably, both are conscious of the other. It’s impressive that Rohmer has mapped a space where one of his characters can be a working mother, but still have multiple partners. Of course, having two partners might just serve as a distraction for the one men who she truly desires. She explains to both Maxence and Loic that she’ll never love them the way she loved Charles, but she hopes that she’ll love them enough. She has resigned herself to the reality that seems the most plausible in a film made by Eric Rohmer. It’s one where she’ll never reunite with her true love.


There’s an early sequence, when Felicie first visits Nevers, where she mentions that she isn’t religious. This seems like a throwaway conversation, but of course, seldom does such a thing exist in Rohmer’s world. Her atheism contrasts with Loic’s admittedly lapsed Catholicism. However, she has two experience which one can describe as religious. One is a bit obvious, she takes Elise to a cathedral and gazes at the architecture. Afterwards, she has a blowup with Maxence that eventually leads to her leaving him and Nevers for good. On the surface, her explanation for leaving seems to be that she can’t juggle taking care of Elise with working. Relationships are always hard, though and her decision to exit out of this comes from the fact that she doesn’t see it as one worth the struggle. Her experience reintroduced to her the idea that she could still find Charles.


After leaving Nevers, she returns to Paris. Although she is now unemployed, the situation is remarkably better because her mother can help take care of Elise. She immediately goes to see Loic and explain to him her new decision. It’s not that she’s decided on Loic instead of Maxence, but that she’s gone back on her initial plan. Loic offers to take her to a performance of Shakespeare’s The Winter Tale. Ever the skeptic, Loic explains to her as being far-fetched, but she agrees to go with him anyway. To keep things brief, the scene Rohmer decides to show is about resurrection. It’s the thing that Loic has, in the previous scene, described negatively as a “fantastic thing” but Felicie is completely caught up in it. On the drive home, the two share a discussion over the scene which underscores Felicie’s newly found faith. She even goes to the point of saying she’s more religious than Loic, an observation on his inability to believe in something miraculous.


Loic seems to be the film’s most logical viewpoint, especially when Felicie struggles to be sure of herself. However, his reservations about the “fantastic” are foolish, and Felicie gets her own miracle. She runs into Charles on a bus and the two get back together. She’s been either struggling to block out Charles for the entire film, but the two end up together. It all happens in the blink of an eye. This is how reality works sometimes, though I acknowledge the fact that such a fantastic event can be jarring in Rohmer’s grounded world. Indeed, the couple reuniting is the equal to the resurrection in Shakespeare’s play. The moment is less transcendent for Felicie, though, because life goes on afterwards. We’re left wondering if Charles will fit back into her life. There isn’t a cruel hint that things are going to go wrong, but we’re also not given the satisfaction that the two reuniting suggested in the film’s opening.




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