Like a forgotten gift we now get to unwrap with delight, Eric Rohmer's 1996 "A Summer's Tale," never before released in this country, arrives just in time to add a touch of delight to the contemporary landscape.
Rohmer, who died in 2010 just shy of his 90th birthday, was a French New Wave stalwart who specialized in the delicate dance of human nature, in detailing the amusing and delicious romantic complications we build into our lives because we rarely know ourselves as well as we think we do.
The director liked to group his films into series, with "Six Moral Tales" including the Oscar-nominated "My Night at Maud's" and the equally astute "Claire's Knee" being the best known.
In the 1990s, Rohmer turned out a quartet of films he called "Tales of the Four Seasons," of which this was the only one that inexplicably did not manage to secure an American distributor at the time of release. Astute, unhurried and gently amusing, it will be welcomed by the director's fans while serving as a fine introduction for those who know him not.
Set in seaside Brittany in general and towns like Dinard, Saint Malo and Saint Lunaire specifically, "A Summer's Tale" begins with a handsome young man getting off a ferry to spend a few weeks of vacation along the area's beaches in the hopes of a summer romance before he has to take up a boring office job.
That would be Gaspard (Melvil Poupaud), a brooding, dark-haired individual whose college experience was focused on math but whose dream, as indicated by the guitar he carries off the boat, is to make a career through music.
Gaspard does not remain alone for long. He goes to a local crepe restaurant and attracts the attention of sprightly waitress Margot (Amanda Langlet, the star of Rohmer's "Pauline at the Beach").
A lively, empathetic young woman who turns out to have a PhD in ethnography, Margot has a boyfriend who is conveniently on the other side of the world, so she and Gaspard fall into an easy companionship, doing a lot of walking and talking in scenic locales enticingly photographed by Diane Baratier.
This is the first time, Gaspard says, he has had a genuine friendship with a woman, and he ends up confiding in Margot the reason he is in Brittany: He hopes to meet up with Lena (Aurelia Nolin), a woman he is infatuated with but who may or may not care about him.
Frustrated with Lena's non-appearance, Gaspard is susceptible to Margot's suggestion that he take up with Solene (Gwenaelle Simon), a friend of hers who finds Gaspard attractive but, like everyone else in this exquisitely calibrated film, has her own specific ideas about how relationships should be conducted.
An engaging piece of observational cinema, this film is a pleasure to listen to, as the young people talk passionately about what's important in their lives as they dance around their potential involvement with each other.
It may seem like nothing much is happening on-screen, but by the time "A Summer's Tale" is all over, it feels like everything important has been said and done. Welcome to the magic of Rohmer, one final time.