Rohmer, Je t’aime

Running time 109 minutes
Written and
directed Eric Rohmer
Starring Andy Gillet, Stephanie Crayencour

Eric Rohmer’s The Romance of Astrea and Celadon (Les Amours d’Astrée et de Céladon), from his own screenplay, is based on Honoré d’Urfé’s 17th-century novel, which itself is set in fifth-century Gaul; it is a pastoral romance involving the shepherds of the Forez plain. This is Mr. Rohmer’s most recent, and reportedly final, film. Actually, it is amazing that Mr. Rohmer, now nearing 90, has remained active and moderately bankable this long in a career that spans more than half a century, from Journal d’un scelerat in 1950 to L’Anglaise et le Duc (The Lady and the Duke) in 2001 and Triple Agent in 2004. He has made more than a score of cinematic classics along the way, though some more captious critics may question linking Mr. Rohmer to the term “cinematic” inasmuch as seemingly endless talk has been such a prominent feature in his oeuvre.

Anyway, the Anthology Film Archive is presenting its premiere New York run from Thursday, Aug. 14, through Wednesday, Aug. 20, at 6:45 and 9:15 nightly, with additional screenings on Saturday and Sunday at 4:30. The reader must be forewarned that Astrea and Celadon assumes a posture of self-conscious stylization and artificiality that is even more pronounced than that of Perceval in 1978. The narrative, such as it is, requires a degree of tolerance for characters who are driven by moral and ethical principles to behave in the game of love with continually agonizing stubbornness, until they are tricked by a canny Druid priest into unknowingly falling into each other’s arms.

Astrea and Celadon are young shepherds in love, until Astrea’s unjustified jealousy drives them part. Celadon jumps into a raging torrent, and is thought to have been swept out to sea. Actually, he has been rescued by three noble and nubile nymphs, who live in a nearby castle, and nurse him back to health.

Meanwhile, distraught Astrea is contemplating her own suicide, but is dissuaded by her friends in the shepherd community. The only dramatic question of any consequence in this 109-minute film is how long it will take to reunite Astrea with Celadon, and I must concede, it seems to take forever. After a time, however, I began thinking of Shakespeare’s As You Like It, although Rohmer’s cross-dressing and gender reversals are treated with more transparency and sensual display.

We are placed also at the spiritual crossroads between the pagan polytheism (Jupiter, Venus, Mars and all that) of the Roman occupiers of Gaul, and the burgeoning Christian monotheism of the Gallic Druids. Love itself is enthroned as a spiritual constant despite the licentiously cynical songs of a wandering troubadour with a mistress on each arm.

All of the players convey a conviction that they are not merely playacting in a period masquerade, but rather engaging in life-and-death moral transactions that convulse their whole beings. Yet even though I much prefer Mr. Rohmer’s forays in the contemporary world from very oblique vantage points, I find his period spirituality very genuine, as if he is searching in the past for the roots of his intense identification with the trials and torments of his most memorable characters, particularly his gallery of beautiful and articulately opinionated women, unequaled in world cinema.

Perhaps David Thomson expresses it best in the concluding sentence of his masterly meditation on Eric Rohmer in his New Biographical Dictionary of Film: “Indeed, it is as if—in fact—he was a moviemaker from the 18th century come to visit.” Rohmer, Je t’aime