By Afra Nariman
A Summer’s Tale (1996)
Directed by: Éric Rohmer
Stars: Amanda Langlet, Melvil Poupaud, Gwenaëlle Simon, Aurélia Nolin
While visiting a coastal town waiting for Lena, a girl who he has been casually dating, Gaspard befriends a waitress named Margot and starts a romance with her friend, free spirited Solene. As he spends time with the two women, he falls for them both, while still keeping Lena in mind. As the summer goes on, his feelings become more and more conflicted.
A summer romance in a beach town on the coast of France; what could go wrong? For Gaspard in A Summer’s Tale, what goes wrong isn’t a genuinely bad thing for him, so long as he can be decisive and confident. That is what he lacks and where the problems arise. Thinking that Lena is over him, Gaspard meets Margot, a beautiful and eccentric young waitress who makes herself known to him. Although Gaspard originally falls for her, Margot’s own situation is a bit complicated so they decide to stay friends. It is through Margot in fact, that Gaspard meets Solene, a lively, carefree young woman who shares Gaspard’s love for music. Completely expecting Lena to have forgotten about him and accepting that Margot was not truly interested; Gaspard falls for Solene’s enchanting personality and beauty. Just when everything seems to be in order in his life, Lena returns and Gaspard’s faithfulness is put to the test. His indecision arises. Although it is clear that the woman he truly loves is Margot, he is unsure of who to pursue the strongest. Really, he wants to make sure he ends up with one of them.
Gaspard’s insecurity and lack of confidence is brought up throughout the film, mostly in his conversations with Margot, who for much of the film plays the role of Gaspard’s “relationship guru.” Adamant about keeping their relationship as friends, she plays her role in helping Gaspard navigate his conflicted emotions regarding Solena and Lena. At the core of Gaspard’s insecurities is his existential thoughts of being different than most. In a moment in which he pours out his heart to Margot, he claims:
Gaspard feels like an outsider around everyone. He feels as if he has to put on a mask to please others and be accepted by them; he admits this is true even with Lena and Solene… but not with Margot. He admits that she is the only one that he is able to be himself around. To this, Margot explains that this may be because they are such good friends; with friends it’s easy to be authentically yourself. Although the film is about romance and love, friendship is a huge theme of the story as well. At multiple instances throughout the film, the narrative of friendship over romantic relationships is pushed forward, with characters expressing that they feel it is more important.
As the film progresses and his experiences with all three women grow deeper, Gaspard is overwhelmed with the conflict at hand. Although he begins to get to know himself and engage with life more through his interactions with Margot, Solene and Lena; he is ultimately indecisive about who he really wants to be with, and at the same time weary about hurting Lena… but most of all he wants a girlfriend when this is all over. The approach to his reasoning is presented to us as a moral flaw of his, that both Margot and Solene express their animosity towards. The commitments he makes to the women begin to overlap and he is unable to make-up his mind. Ultimately he decides to avoid both Lena and Solene; and Margot reveals that her boyfriend will be returning soon so she cannot travel with him either. The ending is unfinished and vague, but perhaps it is best left that way. He ends up with nobody and loses the chance to be with who he truly loved, Margot.
A Summer’s Tale feels extremely real and genuinely natural. The dialogue flows elegantly and the days of summer pass by at a perfect pace. Gaspard’s interactions and relationships with all three women progress at a natural pace and each relationship builds up its own value to the story. The film is extremely humane, partly due to excellently written dialogue and directing on the part of Rohmer; and partly due to Rohmer’s creation of such relatable and engaging personalities in each of his characters. In Gaspard, we are given the introverted, self-aware, deep thinker who is always unsure of himself and just allows things to take care of themselves, feeling as if he never has control over the things that happen around him. In Margot, we are given the outgoing, extrovert who loves people, loves meeting new people and genuinely cares about everyone around her. In Solene, we have the fun-loving, free spirited and carefree young woman who “has her principles” and rightfully expects the best from the people who she gives her best to. Lastly, there is Lena, who is hoping to avoid making a romantic mistake and is hesitant to relinquish her freedom to just anybody. All four of the film’s characters have attributes that almost anybody can identify with.
A Summer’s Tale is a patient romance at heart, that has an innocent depth to it. In a sense, it is about the complications that come with trying to have a summer fling. It highlights the drama that easily arises in the lives of young people who are still searching for their identity and what they are looking for in a partner. Although a simple romance from afar, A Summer’s Tale is filled with philosophical themes revolving around love, friendship, morality, self awareness, music and authenticity. Other than its emphasis on romance and romantic conflicts, the film focuses on the importance of friendship, morality and authenticity most of all. It comes across as extremely realistic. It is an ordinary story; but through genuine dialogue, engaging drama that doesn’t feel forced, as drama often does feel with other romantic films, a mesmerizing setting and a hypnotically beautiful aura around the film, Rohmer was able to create an incredibly down-to-earth, humane and relatable film that is engaging, enjoyable and easy to watch, yet still has a lot of depth to offer. A simple story told so elegantly that surpasses the limitations of it’s genre or style.