Felicie (Charlotte Véry) is on holiday in Britanny, and in the thick of a holiday romance with Charles (Frédéric Van Den Driessche) . Due to a mix-up with addresses, Felicie and Charles lose touch with each other. However, Felicie has fallen pregnant. Five years later, Felicie is still working as a hairdresser in Paris and living with her mother while bringing up her daughter Elise (Ava Loraschi) There are two men in her life: Maxence (Michel Voletti) and Loic (Hervé Furic) but Felicie is unable to commit to either of them. She still holds a torch for Charles, and the thought of what might have been, and her hope and belief that she will meet him again, haunts her life.
Considering how Eric Rohmer is a writer/director noted especially for his dialogue, it’s noteworthy that A Winter’s Tale (Conte d’hiver) begins in silence, save for a piano and some sound effects. The opening sequence is intentionally in a sharp contrast to the rest of the film: sunlight and beaches versus a cold wintry city; bright colours versus dull grainy greys and drabs. If A Winter’s Tale is a fairy tale, it’s one set squarely in a very real time and place that you would understand many people wanting to be freed from.
Rohmer has dealt with the workings of fate and chance before. We may remember the signs and symbols that sent Delphine on her path in The Green Ray. There’s a link with this film in that Marie Rivière, who played Delphine, appears in a small but vital role in A Winter’s Tale. Moving further back, A Winter’s Tale evokes My Night at Maud’s, and not just in its use of a wintry Parisian setting. My Night at Maud’s dealt with Pascal’s wager on the existence of God. It is better to believe than not to believe, Pascal said: if you don’t believe and are proven right, you have gained or lost nothing. But if you do believe and you are proven right, you gain everything. Felicie believes. She believes that Charles is the one for her, and he’s somewhere out there and they will meet up again. Either Maxence or Loic would make a good partner, but ultimately not good enough for her, and she is not willing to disappoint either of them by not being right for them. All this helps us suspend our disbelief in a story which in much less sure hands would seem far too heavily reliant on coincidence and authorial dictates. But it works, and it works very well indeed, with an ending that is supremely affecting despite – or maybe even because of – our anticipation of it.
Credit has to go to Charlotte Véry, who makes Felicie an engaging heroine. Rohmer also manages to coax a genuine and not-too-cloying performance out of young Ava Loraschi, whose only film this is. A Winter’s Tale is the best of Rohmer’s Tales of the Four Seasons and is among the finest films of his career.
Artificial Eye’s DVD is transferred in its original aspect ratio of 1.66:1 but is not anamorphically enhanced (despite what the packaging says). Luc Pagès’s photography is a little on the plain side, possibly intentionally. I don’t know if the film was shot in 16mm as some of Rohmer’s other films have been. It might well be the case, as the majority of this film is quite grainy, though not so grainy as other 16mm blowups I’ve seen. The holiday prologue, on the other hand, intentionally looks slicker and more colourful, and may well have originated on 35mm. (For a similar mixture of film gauges, see François Ozon’s Under the Sand.) Given the nature of this film, I’m not sure if anamorphic enhancement would have benefited it a great deal.
Incidentally, this DVD bears a 15 certificate, although the film itself carried a 12 on its cinema release. This is due to the nudity and brief sexual content in the prologue. However, when A Winter’s Tale was certified for video release, a 12 certificate for home viewing did not exist, so the film was given a 15. As the film is identical on this DVD release to Artificial Eye’s earlier video, they clearly didn’t feel the need to have it recertified. I doubt this film has much appeal to the 12-15 age bracket, but just in case anyone reading this is the parent of a young teenager wanting to watch this, you could bear the above in mind.
The soundtrack is mono, as originally intended. There’s nothing much to comment here, as it’s a professional track with music, sound and the all-important dialogue well mixed and balanced. English subtitles are optional – though I wouldn’t do without them unless you are very fluent in French – and there are fifteen chapter stops.
The main extra is another of those very useful short featurettes “Eric Rohmer parle de ses films”, an extract from an interview with Michel Ciment dating from February 1992. Rohmer discusses the use of Pascal’s Wager in his films. Appropriate extracts are included, but what will really tantalise Rohmer buffs is a short clip (on fuzzy video) of his stage play Trio en mi bémol (Trio in E Flat), which also alludes to the Wager. Ciment and Rohmer also discuss how contemporary Rohmer’s work is, by showing details of the characters’ everyday lives that other filmmakers might leave out – in particular, the amount of times Felicie is shown to use public transport. Rohmer’s use of small crews makes filming on the Metro, say, much more feasible. Rohmer also describes his rehearsal methods and his use of colour and costume design. Although Rohmer’s films look as if he’s just stuck a camera somewhere and filmed everyday life, each of his films has a carefully controlled look and colour scheme. The featurette is in a ratio of 4:3 and runs 9:26.
The other extras on the disc are a Rohmer biography and filmography, which is up to date to 2004’s Triple Agent, and the theatrical trailer (1:50). This is non-anamorphic 1.66:1 with fixed English subtitles, and is notably grainier and more contrasty than the feature.
Artificial Eye are long-time supporters of Eric Rohmer’s work in the UK, and we’re to be grateful that their back catalogue is now coming out on DVD. Rohmer’s fans will need no recommendation to pick this one up.