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  • TBC
  • Drama, Romance
  • 2007
  • 109 mins

The Romance Of Astrea And Celadon

The Romance Of Astrea And Celadon

Synopsis

Noble shepherds and shepherdesses play out their masquerades of love in a world of idyllic artifice. Eric Rohmer directs, reportedly for the last time

About

Not only was Eric Rohmer editor-in-chief for 'Cahiers Du Cinéma' from 1956-1963, at a time when France's Nouvelle Vague was first washing over the film world, but he was also the hardest to pin down of the 'big five' New Wave directors.

Between the contemporary, word-heavy social/erotic observations of his film cycles 'The Moral Tales', 'Comedie And Proverbs' and 'Tales Of The Four Seasons', he has also experimented in stylised period adaptations like Die Marquise Von O (1976), Perceval Le Gallois (1978) and L'Anglaise Et Le Duc (2001). So it seems fitting that the latest and, according to Rohmer himself, the last of his films, The Romance Of Astrea And Celadon, should bring many of these contrasting elements together to form something like a summation of his career.

Too bad, then, that it falls far short of his best. Although, in what seems a case of pigeons coming home to roost, 'Cahiers Du Cinéma' listed The Romance Of Astrea And Celadon in their top 10 of 2007, one suspects that this was more a celebration of the then 87-year-old director himself than of his pulseless, lacklustre swansong.

If the film seems a curio, it is perhaps no more so than the seventeenth-century novel 'L'Astrée' from which it has been adapted, which attempted to revive and transplant the Greco-Roman pastoral genre to a fifth-century Gaul of the imagination. The shepherds, nymphs and druids that populate this sylvan landscape all bear Greek names borrowed from Theocritus' 'Idylls' and Virgil's 'Eclogues', yet speak French, dress in medieval costume and practise an indigenous form of pagan monotheism that, in many of its (much elaborated) details, reflects the Trinitarian Christianity of Urfé's own day.

Not that any of this spatial or temporal slipperiness matters so much, in a film where identity always seems fluid and everything is a masquerade. Here nobody and nothing is quite as they seem. Right from the start, an introductory text reveals that other locations in France have had to stand in for Urfé's Forez Plain, "now disfigured by urban blight and conifer plantations".

Celadon (Gillis), a nobleman who has taken on the role of shepherd less out of necessity than as a lifestyle choice, is ordered by his lover Astrea (Crayencour) to pretend to be in love with another woman, as part of a ruse to keep the parents happy - but then Astrea, made insanely jealous by her own stratagem, tells Celadon to stay forever out of her sight. Driven to despair, Celadon leaps into the river to his death, but is recovered and revived downstream by a trio of comely nymphs - although, as one of them explains, they are in fact merely high-born mortals, being 'nymphs' in name only.

Believed dead by the rueful Astrea and unable to bring himself to disobey her last command to him, Celadon mopes at an isolated hut in the forest, keeping well away from his lover's sight - until the wise druid Adamas (Renko), knowing that Celadon was disguised as a girl when he first met Astrea, proposes a similar ploy to bring the two lovers back into mutual proximity. Cross-dressing farce ensues, until the final, inevitable scene of recognition and reconciliation.

Even though The Romance Of Astrea And Celadon has been shot in a disarmingly plain style, with real locations, unobtrusive camerawork, a bleating-and-birdsong soundtrack and a complete lack of special effects, this too is something of an illusion, for beneath all the carefree bucolic frolicking lies a genuine sophistication. Rohmer's contention appears to be that love transcends time, place, gender, the body, even death itself, so that, no matter whether these characters are dressed up as shepherds or nobles, as boys or girls, as ancient Greeks or modern Parisians, the emotions that they embody and express will forever remain true.

It is a message well-suited to crown the career of an auteur whose many different films have always featured love as their principal theme. What a pity, though, that Celadon and his friends are too unengaging for any viewer to care much. Love, at least in its Platonic form, may be eternal but this film feels like an eternal drudgery to sit through.

Cast & Connections

  • Actor: Stéphanie Crayencour, Serge Renko, Mathilde Mosnier, Rosette, Andy Gillet, Cécile Cassel, Jocelyn Quivrin, Rudolphe Pauly, Arthur Dupont, Véronique Reymond
  • Director: Eric Rohmer
  • Screen Writer: Eric Rohmer
  • Writer (Book): Honoré D'Urfé
  • Producer: Jean-Michel Rey, Philippe Li??geois, Fran??oise Etchegaray
  • Photographer: Diane Baratier
  • Composer: Jean-Louis Valero

In a nutshell

Rohmer's swansong is droll, dignified and dull as a druid's dishwater.

by Anton Bitel

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