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In an enchanted forest, back in the time of the Druids, the shepherd Céladon and the shepherdess Astrée share a pure and chaste love. Fooled by a suitor, Astrée dismisses Céladon, who throws himself into a river out of despair. She thinks he's dead, but he's been secretly rescued by some nymphs. Faithful to the promise he made to Astrée to never appear before her again, Céladon must overcome many obstacles to break the curse. Mad with love and despair, coveted by the nymphs, surrounded by rivals, and obliged to disguise himself as a woman to be near the one he loves, will he manage to make himself known without breaking his oath? A romance filled with doubt, hazards, and delicious temptations. Written by
I had a bad time with the last medieval-set film from Eric Rohmer, Perceval le Gallois, generally because it was shot on sets and I found Fabrice Luchini as Perceval incredibly annoying. Having an interest in the literature of the time I was uncomfortable with the portrayal.
So I came to this one with misgivings, but fortunately it allowed some of the source material to breathe. The film is based on a 17th century novel called L'Astrée by Honoré d'Urfé. It is set in 5th Century France and is a romantic fantasy of the times. It seems that all characters are either shepherds, shepherdesses, nymphs or druids. I feel that Rohmer's style is quite inflexible, he shot this movie in squarish 4:3, as usual, whereas I felt the languor of the material, the playful Arcadian tone, the respect for the landscape (that Rohmer professes at the start of the film) required a more horizontal treatment of 2.35:1. Full-screen is what Rohmer typically uses and is good for his conversational films, or portraiture if you will. Here the material begs for something different, think for example of the British romantic painters William Etty and Lord Leighton, of Leighton's The Daphnephoria, Etty's The World Before The Flood, long sensual paintings. Rohmer does however try his best to find scenes that look best under 4:3, for example when Astrea takes her flock to high pasture up a steep meadow, there's no other way the scene should be filmed, it's more a case of Rohmer fitting the world to his aspect ratio though. I think that what works best for Rohmer in nearly all of his other films was a weakness here, the spartan conversational style.
Celadon is a prince who has decided to live as a shepherd, having presciently followed Voltaire's advice that working the land is the key to happiness. He is loved by Astrea, a shepherdess. A tragic miscommunication between the two leads to their separation and peregrinations. Along the way we are treated to the usual Rohmerian banter about how love can't be forced, elective affinities, and the rationalisations and sophistries of love that each of the characters own. The main chat is between Hylas and Lycidas. Hylas is the equivalent of the bumble bee, he believes that men are meant to flit like bees from flower to flower, he is a joyful larger-than-life character. Lycidas on the other hand believes in monogamous love (with his beloved Phillis), a fusion of souls and both openly scorn the other, though Lycidas comes off as dour. I'm not convinced the philosophical material is a move forward from his earlier movies such as Pauline a la Plage, but it certainly is presented here with enough charm.
The source material is well over 5000 pages long and obviously here we have a massive condensation. You can sense this quite often, for example when Celadon contemplates a painting of Psyche dripping hot wax on the sleeping Cupid. The painting is loaded with context, it's describing a scene from Apuleius' The Golden Ass, the only fully-surviving Latin novel, the whole episode is a rich and dense allegory regarding Platonism and different types of love, it's just skipped over here.
The movie definitely is a pleasure to watch for me, despite the extravagance that the tale yearns to be told with, and which is barely present here. I don't think there is any director alive, or any budget that would see full justice done to the story, I think Rohmer succeeded as much as can be expected.
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