BUY FROM AMAZON: CLICK HERE!
STUDIO: Koch Lorber Films
RUNNING TIME: 109 minutes
Picture, if you will, a Shakespearean fantasy, such as A Midsummer Night’s Dream, filtered through the oftentimes maddening brain of the French New Wave and you’ll have some sort of vague approximation as to what exactly you’re getting into with this one.
Starring Andy Gillet, Stephanie Crayencour, Cecile Cassel and Serge Renko
Written and directed by: Eric Rohmer; based upon the novel by Honore d’Urfe
A slow, whimsical and lushly photographed fantasy romance from one of the last of the French New Wave directors that ultimately becomes undone by its own self importance, selfishness and refusal to let us into the characters. It’s a film more concerned with ideas, themes than it is relatable characters or plot. Good for the Rohmer completionist (such people must exist somehwere)and very few others.
‘The Romance of Astrea and Celadon’ is not interested in what you want out of a movie, so drop all of your preconceived notions of this or that. Plot is not essential, it is merely a nuisance or a way to have certain characters be in a certain location at a certain time. It is most concerned with the very essence of love and emotion and the reasons for why we do the things we do. It is filled with long scenes (and long takes) of two or more characters talking, arguing, weeping, longing or saying so much while doing so little.
The problem arises when you look through all the Romantic era language, the gorgeous French countryside, the costumes and all the production of the film and realize that Celadon (Andy Gillet) and Astrea (Stephanie Crayencour) are (true to Eric Rohmer’s fashion) terrible, naive and wildly immature people. This in turns causes much of what Rohmer and the film want to say because it’s puppy ‘world ending’ love that is neever fully established, we open on a scene of them “breaking up” because Astrea is both dumb and jealous. Nor can we believe anything they say because they’re not only acting irrationally, but they’re acting just plain dumb, dumb, dumb. The only scene of any lasting value is the verbal fencing between a happily married shepherd and a houndish fool, they’re the only one’s whose lives and experiences are relatable; and I went to high school! I know all about “yearning” and “oh, I can’t live without you”, but here that idea is taken to the extremes and we just want to shake the shit out of both Astrea and Celadon for being so damn cliche. Grow up, please. Do something other than shepherding, for the love of god.
One of the more maddening aspects of the film is its insistence upon telling, not showing the audience who what or why. The very opening scene utilizes this egregious tact in storytelling by having two characters spell out everything that would have happened in the opening scene of a different movie. Other characters know of or have met before without any previous encounters inside the running time of the movie. It’s lazy and it keeps us on the outside; if Rohmer was aiming for an effect, he missed it.
However, the film is wonderfully acted. Though every character is playing some form of obvious Shakespearean stereotype: lover, maiden, druid, jester, by keeping his takes long and with the total nonconcern of plot, Rohmer is able to extract performances that keep you engaged even when all other points are lost on you. I can picture watching the movie without subtitles and still being moved by some of the scenes, even in such a dialogue heavy piece. Gillet is handsome, well spoken (especially for a shepherd) but naive and utterly in love. We know he’s in love because he keeps telling us. He gets the meaty part, encountering ‘nymphs’ (of a sort) and druids and surviving a terrible tumble down a river, but don’t worry, that happens off screen. Every guy who has ever been to high school can relate, at least superficially, to what Celadon is going through. Astrea comes off as illogical and stubborn for the majority of the movie, I know it takes two to tango, but the slight majority of all the problems our star crossed lovers encounter can be placed at her feet. After all, she agreed to what was happening in the opening scene, an agreement she later recants. Crayencour is a beautiful girl, perfectly at home in 9th century French clothing. She reminds of a piece of art, a half nude portrait of a quiet pastoral girl, with blonde locks and a rosy, full face.
It’s easy to get lost in the frame of the film. A disclaimer at the beginning states that they tried to recreate the conditions the novel which the movie is based upon was set in and the results are breathtaking. Beautiful, lush green forests fill the corners, effectively being a better window to the past than any Delorean ever could. The paucity of sets never screams ‘we have no budget!’ instead showcasing that these are relatively simple people, fancy druids and nymphs notwithstanding.
However, while you appreciate the acting and the look, it’s the script that ultimately dooms ‘The Romance of Astrea and Celadon’. Love stories are difficult because, especially in this day and age, love is a hard thing to come by; and sometimes harder to believe in and we never believe that Astrea and Celadon are supposed to be together. Their ‘trials’, as they are, are a contrivance; a bareness of plot that puts one scene after another. If anything, we’re actively rooting against the pair because they’re terribly selfish, young and stupid; they end up precisely the same way, too.
The movie is saved by its individual parts, but the sum is too disjointed and silly to give a proper recommendation. Eric Rohmer has been making movies a very, very long time so it is impossible to chalk this one up to first time director; this is precisely the movie Rohmer, known for his selfish characters, wanted to make and unfortunately for us, he does precisely what he sets out to do.
The cinematography is a joy to look at. The transfer is good and the sound is mixed very naturally, sometimes it’s hard to see if someone’s actually talking. The only extras are a trailer for this and other movies; a shame because I’d love to see a documentary on someone like Rohmer at work on set. Then again, I enjoy watching the process of film-making.