Romance of Astrea and Celadon
*** Out of ****
Directed by: Éric Rohmer
Released: September 2, 2007
Country: France / Italy / Spain
Runtime: 109 min
Reviewed by: Philip Hogan
The films of Éric Rohmer have a certain trademark about them. Rohmer, one of the founding directors of the French New Wave who died earlier this year at the age of 89, often made films revolving around the spoken word; dialogue fueled pictures with plenty of conversations used to drive the narratives forward. The contrast between the character’s spoken intentions, their actions, and how they truly feel inside are the driving forces behind his work. Often in a Rohmer film, there are no big moments that are memorable or stand out. Instead, his films are made up of quiet moments in a person’s everyday life. Because of this, his stories can come off as naturalistic, but the complicated dynamics between his characters cannot be denied.
Romance of Astrea and Celadon is the last film that Rohmer directed. While the surface setting of 5th Century Gaul might take some of his usual viewers by surprise, this is a Rohmer film through and through. The title characters are sheepherders who are secretly in love, despite a longstanding rift between their families. One day, Astrea mistakenly thinks she spots Celadon being unfaithful to her. Despite his claims, she will not believe him, and asks that he never speak to her again. Due to this sudden misery, Celadon immediately decides to drown himself in a nearby river, only to wash downstream and be rescued by a trio of nymphs. Astrea, who soon finds out that Celadon had been faithful all along, wallows in anguish at the belief that she has led her lover to his death. Meanwhile, Celadon is nursed back to health, though unwilling to reunite with his love after her wish to never speak to him again.
The story is very much of another time, framed through the perspective of the source material, a 16th century story written by French author Honoré d’Urfé. Rohmer adapts it straightforwardly, with inspired visuals resembling pastoral paintings of the time period (the film mostly takes place outdoors), and an acting method that comes close to the theatrical presentations of that era. When the film enters into odd territory in the final act, a cross dressing subplot with some undertones, one must understand Rohmer’s, at times distant, if not faithful adaptation of the time.
Other aspects of Rohmer’s style make an appearance in his final film. Most of his previous films lack a traditional musical score, while instead including music that only appears in front of the camera (i.e. radio, live band). Romance of Astrea and Celadon is no exception, showcasing what music from the time period (with a lyricist from 16th century France) might have sounded like, with some of the characters breaking out in song during certain parts of the film. Also, Rohmer’s use of inter-text titles to explain progression in the story and the passing of time is here as well, including the use of voiceover narration, which seems to appear at random. The film’s production values might appear to be non-existent, resembling the look of a TV movie at times, but in the end, Rohmer’s style comes shining through, especially in the abrupt ending.