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'The Romance of Astrea and Celadon': Eric Rohmer's valedictory a fluffy tale
In what he claims will be his final film, 87-year-old Eric Rohmer fashions a serenely daffy coda to a half a lifetime spent behind the camera exploring the vicissitudes of romance.
Rohmer boils down Honore d'Urfe's "Astree" to its central love story, but instead of the 5th Century of the original, Rohmer creates a wholly artificial construct, evoking the 17th Century pastoral universe of d'Urfe's day. It's not unlike the ballads Shakespeare pillaged for his own dramatic purposes. A young shepherd (Andy Gillet) is in love with a young shepherdess (Stephanie Crayencour), who mistakenly believes he is dallying with half the village. She shuns him; he dives into the nearest river, in despair, but comes ashore downstream in the care of nymphs, Druids and a plan involving cross-gender disguise to win back the heart of his beloved.
It is a very silly thing, this piece, and Rohmer knows it. (Shakespeare knew "The Winter's Tale," a work of similar vintage to d'Urfe's, was improbable too.) In its implacable detachment the film doesn't so much pull the viewer into its world as place it on a platter. The result is rather sweet, consciously oriented toward the "bucolic charm" Rohmer's opening title card asserts is the point. All the director's themes and erotic preoccupations are here. When Celadon spies Astrea asleep under a tree, the sight of her discreetly revealed leg compels him to lean in for a kiss. Astrea's thigh cannot help but remind you of "Claire's Knee." Minor, peculiar, but the film is what it is—a "measured, well thought-out risk," in the writer-director's own words.
No MPAA rating (parents cautioned for discreet nudity, if they're especially uptight). Running time: 1:49. Plays Fri.-Thu. at Facets Cinematheque, 1517 W. Fullerton Ave.; 773-281-4114; facets.org.