Wednesday, November 10, 2021

Conte d'hiver (Eric Rohmer, 1992)

Eric Rohmer’s Conte d’hiver starts with some of the most carnal moments in all his work, of a young couple plainly in love and lust, naked in and out of bed, seemingly at utter physical and emotional ease with one another; we rapidly discover it’s a vacation romance, with only the address Felicie gives Charles at the end to ensure its continuity (he doesn’t have a fixed address, and she can’t even accurately recall his surname). Five years later, we learn she mistakenly gave him the wrong information, and they haven’t found each other since, even as his picture dwells in her daughter’s room, so that the girl will always know who her father was. Even as she juggles two other men (dumping one in order to impulsively move out of Paris with the other, and then changing her mind and returning after two days), Charles and the possibility of reuniting with him remain preeminent in her mind – Rohmer’s gracefully involved dialogues explore whether this is mere romantic folly, or a mark of faith that might even be rooted in the immortality of the human soul. Felicie regards herself as relatively stupid, especially compared to her bookish friend Loic, but through her commitment to her own instincts and ideals ultimately evidences a greater capacity to shape her world – he’s professedly religious and she isn’t, but she’s the one who prays in the course of the film, and urges him to go to Mass on Sunday (Pascal’s wager, much discussed in Ma nuit chez Maud, also comes back under the microscope). Against this backdrop, the statistically improbable ending hardly needs to be emphasized as a happy one, with an immediate sense of life moving on. In the end, the narrative distance traveled perhaps isn’t much greater than a carelessly calculated romantic comedy might traverse, but it’s a far greater journey in all other respects.

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