Daily Archives: March 7, 2023

A Tale of Winter (1992)

*. Félicie has a summer fling on the coast with a handsome fellow named Charles. They go their separate ways but she gives him her address so they can stay in touch. It’s the wrong address. Fives years later it’s winter in Paris and Félicie has a daughter, and a relationship with two different men: her boss the businessman Maxence and an intellectual librarian named Loïc. Neither man can satisfy her because she’s still carrying a torch for Charles. Maxence and Loïc know about each other, and Charles, but hope to land Félicie for themselves. But then she meets Charles on a bus and it looks like they’ll finally be happy together picking right up where they left off five years earlier.
*. If that sounds like a rom-com you wouldn’t be far from the mark. It’s a fantasy, or romance in the Shakespearian sense, meaning a late work from Éric Rohmer that mixes mythic elements into an improbable plot with a happy ending. Of course there’s a nod to Shakespeare in the title and the long passage near the end of the movie where Félicie and Loïc go to see a production of The Winter’s Tale. The full scene is played out where the “statue” of Hermione comes to life, and it moves Félicie to tears. You can then draw further connections for yourself.
*. Félicie has two such quiet moments of epiphany in the film, here and earlier when she stops into the cathedral in Nevers and realizes rather abruptly that she doesn’t love Maxence and has to leave him and return to Paris. What happens to her in these moments? Rohmer isn’t coy, and she does try to explain both experiences, but I don’t know how much we can trust her. Or maybe trust isn’t the right word. The thing is, Félicie is a rom-com heroine and they don’t run deep. She’s the princess in this fairy tale (a.k.a. a winter’s tale) just waiting for her prince to reappear.

*. The plain documentary style and the cast of unfamiliar faces (Charlotte Véry, Frédéric van den Driessche, Michel Voletti, Hervé Furic) fits this brand of magical realism. Though Charles does look like a movie star, or as Félicie’s sister points out, a male model. But then Félicie herself is a hairdresser, and if that sounds like I’m stereotyping I’d respond that Rohmer is doing a good enough job of that himself. Loïc is right that she’s bored with intellectual talk, or talk of faith, as she can only respond with her own New Age musings. What were these guys even thinking in going after her in the first place?
*. In one of the philosophical discussions Loïc tries to engage her in he mentions Pascal’s famous wager. At first I couldn’t understand why Rohmer was bothering bringing this up, but by the end of the movie I thought I’d figured it out. Both Maxence and Loïc have made their own version of the wager. Félicie hasn’t really led them on. She’s told them she can only really love Charles. That’s her version of keeping faith. But they’re betting on him being dead, or at least no longer interested in her. And in a non-romance world that would be a safe bet indeed. But this kind of story works by different rules. Alas, they aren’t the heroes of this rom-com. They’re not villains but just placeholders, or representatives of the “normal” world that have to be rejected.

*. Full credit to Véry, an actor I was unfamiliar with (though when I checked her filmography I guess I saw her not so long ago in Madame Hyde). Or maybe most of the credit goes to Rohmer for not letting us give up on her completely in the early going. Rohmer has always gotten a lot of leeway from critics because he genuinely likes women, which is something that isn’t all that common, at least among male directors.
*. I think we like Félicie mainly because she’s honest, and the men in her life so obviously calculating of their odds. Rejected, or dismissed from the stage, they leave with a shrug. Because, as I’ve said, Félicie plays fair with them, at least most of the time.
*. I’m still not sure how or why she gives Charles the wrong address though. An imp of the perverse? A bit of subconscious sabotage? Meanwhile, a line like “There’s love and love” expresses something that is absolutely true, for men and women, but it’s not very flattering to the guy who’s not being loved the way he’d like. And her complaint that she can “only live with a man I’m madly in love with” really should have had Maxence running for the door. She’s a single mom, not a moody teen. Or a heroine in a rom-com. Except, in this case she is.
*. Roger Ebert: “What pervades Rohmer’s work is a faith in love — or, if not love, then in the right people finding each other for the right reasons. There is sadness in his work but not gloom. His characters are too smart to be surprised by disappointments, and too interested in life to indulge in depression.” It’s not tragedy or comedy then, but romance, which is its own genre. This is a fantasy of wish-fulfillment, but a nice one with a happy ending for the only two people (or maybe three) that matter in the world. And you don’t have to give a thought as to the odds that they’re going to stick together. I’d only give them about a month.