An Eric Rohmer film is a particular thing; it's more of a window into an observable world than something staged and played out for an audience's entertainment. This assessment has varied to degrees throughout his career, but it is absolutely the case with his 1996 film A Summer's Tale—the third in his "Tales of the Four Seasons" quartet—which tells the story of Gaspard (Melvil Poupaud), a recent university graduate who spends an increasingly eventful summer in Breton juggling three would-be girlfriends.
The premise would lend itself to farce or male fantasies of irresistibility, but Rohmer's style—patiently waiting until the reality of a given situation is revealed—highlights the organic nature of chance. In using Gaspard as a passive protagonist to tell the story, Rohmer ultimately (if gently) makes a point of highlighting that Gaspard's way of handling things leads to both his own frustration and hurt feelings all around.
The women make the film, particularly waitress/ethnologist Margot (Amanda Langlet), who serves as Gaspard's first point of contact in the story and eventual friend and confidant. Margot, her searching-for-commitment friend Solene (Gwenaëlle Simon) and Gaspard's kind-of-sort-of girlfriend, Lena (Aurelia Nolin)—whom he was in town for the sole purpose of meeting, only to have her arrive days late—are all drawn to Gaspard in different ways, and consistently thwart his desires by having (of all things!) fully realized inner lives.
Once a viewer is able to meet Rohmer's rhythm on his distinctly adagio pacing, his world can be an enchanting one. The power and draw of A Summer's Tale is achieved not by attempting to enchant, but in finding that which is already there to be seen with the right kind of eyes. The kind of patience Rohmer practices in his film—and that his work in turn requires—can be a big thing to ask of an audience. But at his best, he's more than worth it.
A SUMMER'S TALE