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[whitespace] 'Autumn Tale'
Friendly Persuasion: Isabelle (Marie Rivière, right) tries to fix up her pal Magali (Béatrice Romand) with a new lover in 'Autumn Tale.'

Dry but Sweet

Veteran director Eric Rohmer's 'Autumn Tale' springs to life

By Richard von Busack

SHOT IN THE WINE COUNTRY of France, Eric Rohmer's Autumn Tale could just as easily have been made in the cheaper parts of Napa or Sonoma counties. Only the subtitles really make the difference. Watching this film, you think, Well, how French ... but really, how Northern Californian. Autumn Tale (the last in a series of films known as the Tales of the Four Seasons) is the story of a handsome middle-aged single woman, Magali (Béatrice Romand), who is in charge of a small and unpopular Côte du Rhone vineyard. From her hillside, she has a lovely view of the river Rhone and an unlovely view of the twin cooling towers of the Tricastin nuclear power plant. Lonely as she is, Magali isn't about to leave her home to look for a man. ("At my age, it's easier to find hidden treasure," she says.)

Magali's friend Isabelle (Marie Rivière) decides, without Magali's knowledge, to set her up with a personal-ad date. The grape-grower's young friend Rosine (played by the stunning Alexia Portal) also tries to match-make. She intends to fix the elder woman up with her own former lover: a philosophy professor named Étienne (Didier Sandre), whom Rosine has dropped hard but still keeps around as a friend. Suddenly, Magali has two suitors: one known to her, the other unknown, thanks to Isabelle's subterfuge.

Rohmer's droll, delicate, but tough-minded romance touches on more than just love. Rosine's determination to keep her heart subject to her head skirts the edge of ruthlessness. It's a tribute to Rohmer's intelligence that he considers the young girl's coolness not just justifiable but attractive. And Autumn Tale is unusually sexy, even though the film's most dramatically erotic moment shows Étienne straightening Rosine's tank-top strap as it falls away from her bare shoulder.

Those bored by Rohmer dislike the talkativeness of his films. But they may also be teased beyond endurance by the idea of fervent lovemaking just minutes away but avoided again and again--a tease that must seem worse to a French audience. I say worse, because in America, we're content with some of the unsexiest movies on the planet. In lesser Rohmer, the missed encounters and last-minute appeals to principles can seem annoying, farcical without the humor. Autumn Tale shows Rohmer at his best. All the complex likes and dislikes of the characters fit each other like the pegs of a music box striking just the right reeds. The film is suspenseful, too, with the threat that Magali's pride will keep this likable, unusual woman from finding the right man. Rohmer's newest film makes mainstream efforts about an older kind of love, such as The Love Letter and You've Got Mail, seem arthritic. In Autumn Tale, the 79-year-old Eric Rohmer makes most directors today look like old fogies.

Autumn Tale (PG-13; 112 min.), directed and written by Eric Rohmer, photographed by Diane Baratier and starring Marie Rivière, Béatrice Romand and Didier Sandre, opens Friday at the Los Gatos Cinema in Los Gatos.

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From the August 26-September 1, 1999 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 1999 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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