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20 May 2021

Conte d'hiver (1992)

A Winter’s Tale
Directed by: Eric Rohmer
Starring: Charlotte Véry, Michel Voletti,
Hervé Furic,
Christiane Debois, Ava Loreschi,
Frédéric van den Driessche

Eric Rohmer is a romantic. This is the conclusion I have come to after having watched many of his films. Rohmer is fascinated by relationships between men and women, between women and men. Bear with me when I say that to Rohmer, these are not the same thing at all.

Félicie (Charlotte Véry) is also a romantic. She believes in romantic love, the great romance, soulmates, serendipity. She believes she will meet her true love, and so, no other love comes close.


A few summers ago (the scenes play out over the credits), Félicie had met Charles (Frédéric van den Driessche) at a beachside resort and had fallen in love with him. Real love. True love. But at the end of the summer, Charles was hoping to go to America. He’s a trainee cook and is always on the move, so he has no permanent address. Ever optimistic, Félicie gives him her address, and he promises to be in touch. Now, five years have passed (a title card tells us so), and Félicie is a single mother, raising Elise (Ava Loreschi) with her mother’s (Christiane Debois) help. 
 

She is also being courted by two men, who couldn’t be more different from each other. Maxence (Michel Voletti) runs a hairdressing salon, where Félicie works. Loic (Hervé Furic) is a librarian. Both are madly in love with her but Félicie cannot quite make up her mind whom to choose. 


It is clear, however, that both men not only know about Charles, but also about each other, as Félicie tries to navigate who she loves more, if at all. Her mother is in favour of Loic, but as Félicie points out, Loic is smarter than her, and she doesn’t like being dominated intellectually. She does however like to physically dominated. And so, she takes up Maxence’s offer to move to Nevers, a little town far away from Paris, because she feels that as long as she stays in Paris, she will never move on from expecting Charles to return. 

But going to Nevers is different from visiting Nevers, and two days after shifting bag, baggage and child, Félicie is back – not with Loic, though she does visit him. She loves him and wants to be friends, she tells him. Nothing more, because he deserves a woman who loves him like he loves her.

She may even have seen Charles at the Metro, she tells Loic, who points out that Charles may never return to her – after all five years have passed. Or he may be married. Or… That doesn’t matter, says Félicie. “He remains in my heart and I can’t give it to anyone else.” And that is it, in a nutshell.

Félicie cannot – will not – move on with any other man because she has never stopped loving Charles. And she knows that no other relationship will survive a living ghost.

Éric Rohmer (real name: Jean-Marie Maurice Scherer) made movies in groups – Six Moral Tales (about men who fall in love with one woman only to question their choice when they meet another); Parables; Comedies and Proverbs and the Tales of Four Seasons, of which Conte d'hiver (A Winter’s Tale) is the second.  

Like Rohmer’s other films, Conte d'hiver is also driven by people rather than plot and is expository in nature. His characters like to talk – about their feelings, their motivations, their desires.

 

Félicie may come off as rather self-absorbed, even selfish in her desire to keep the two men dangling, but like all of Rohmer’s other protagonists, Félicie too is honest to a fault. Both men know that she loves them, but not like they would like her to, or the way they deserve. But what she says and what she does often contradict each other, and it this that fuels the drama in the film.

Rohmer does not concern himself with the perceived morality of dating two men while loving a third. His concern is mainly centred on Félicie’s dilemma – which of these three men is the most suited to her. By ensuring that two of them, at least, know about the third, who not being present, cannot know about the other two, he renders moral judgements superfluous.

In the end, it takes witnessing a performance of Shakespeare’s A Winter’s Tale for Félicie to realise that in the end, faith matters. Ironically, Loic, who is a staunch believer in God and Church, lacks the simple faith that Félicie has in the reality of her own desires.


Journeys are a leitmotif – Félicie is always going somewhere. And so, it becomes plausible that she would meet Charles one day. After all, one meets many people on journeys.

Rohmer’s people are ordinary, everyday folks, who are, according to him, neither good nor bad, neither innocent nor guilty. They just are. And that is how we see Félicie, who throughout her vacillations, remains true to herself, and the man she met and loved many years ago. 


Yet, it is not a cloying, melodramatic ‘waiting’ for true love to return. Félicie works, plays, loves… it is a normal life, only she is more self-aware than most that she has no love to give – not the kind of love that sweet men like Maxence and Loic (in their different ways) deserve. And it is this honesty that underlines all her actions – from her refusing to stay with Maxence at Nevers to rejecting Loic’s offer to take care of her however she felt (or didn’t feel) about him, and even the fact that Elise knows her father is Charles.

The idea of destiny shaping the lives of ordinary people is central to this group of films. And like all of Rohmer’s films, Conte d'hiver too is bright and sunny, filled with the colours and scenes of ordinary, everyday life. It is to Rohmer’s credit that Félicie’s bluntness does not come across as bitchy. She is whimsical and capricious, but she quite obviously cares about the men and their feelings.

If you are ever in the mood for a gentle, humorous film which believes that one must be true to one’s heart above all else, do watch.

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