Judge Daryl Loomis is looking for love in all the wrong places.
Éric Rohmer's romantic fantasy in the spirit of As You Like It and A Midsummer Night's Dream.
For nearly half a century, Éric Rohmer (Claire's Knee) has delighted audiences with his musings on love, family, and relationships. Now, in his twilight hours, we have his self-proclaimed swan song, The Romance of Astrea and Celadon, based on the novel, L'Astrée by Honoré d'Urfé, a light romance that asks the question of what true love really means. Unfortunately, it also begs the question of why Rohmer couldn't have made a deeper film to end his illustrious career.
Facts of the Case
In Fifth Century France, surrounded by druids and nymphs, Astrea (Stéphanie Crayncour in her first film) and Celadon (Andy Gillet, Nouvelle Chance) are deeply in love. One day, however, after coming in with her herd, Astrea witnesses Celadon kissing another woman. Devastated, she orders him to never lay eyes on her again and, in turn, the now devastated Celadon throws himself into the river. He is saved by a group of nymphs who convince him to break his vow and mend his relationship with Astrea, who never stopped loving him.
Through this pastoral countryside bouncing with nymphs and shepherds, we find one essential question: what is true love? Rohmer gives us two possibilities. Either love is the unbreakable bond between two souls that carries on after death or it is a play toy to be passed around to as many people as possible. Unfortunately for the director, this is a completely loaded question. Even my description of these two options makes the answer crystal clear, and I'm using essentially the same language used in the film. While this sentiment is not unique among Rohmer's films, The Romance of Astrea and Celadon does not offer anything more than the frivolous possibility of the other, nor does the film feature the soulful dialog and sold character studies of his previous work.
Part of the problem comes from the fact that this film is not really about both lovers. It concerns itself with Celadon's feelings almost exclusively and, for most of the picture, treat Astrea as something of a villainess, who cold-heartedly denies her love for Celadon based on a single tiny incident. Jealousy makes lovers act nuts, no doubt. Yet while both lovers are victimized by it, only one is forced to suffer. When Astrea realizes that Celadon truly did lover her, her heart melts and grief overwhelms her. While she is inconsolable, Celadon has been saved by a bevy of beautiful nymphs, taken to their amazing nymph kingdom where he can recover in peace. The lead nymph falls in love with him, but drifts away when he only will declare an undying love for Astrea. Because of this, one of the others leads him out of the kingdom and back to his realm, begging him to return to his true love.
Astrea has ordered him never to see her, however, so we go into the second act, which should be subtitled "Celadon's Pity Party." His woe is me act wears thin quick and, meanwhile, we return to Astrea as everyone tries to snap her out of her grief by waxing poetically on the meaning of love. In this, we have two sets of characters. The noble brother of Celadon believes that, because he and his wife are so in love, their souls are one in the same, inseparable. On the other side, we have a fopish, frivolous musician who knows that, because his group of sycophants hang all over him, spreading your seed is where true love lays. The second philosophy is never an option and the answer for Rohmer is clear from the outset. If these scenes don't completely solidify it, the final act will.
The scheme concocted by the druid uncle of Celadon's nymph friend to allow him to see Astrea again reeks of contrivances built from Shakespeare, though the execution comes nowhere near the Bard's level. Instead, the druid's delusion, that Celadon is feminine and looks identical to his daughter, is forced on viewers to slam home Rohmer's position on love that had long been made abundantly clear. Suspension of disbelief is one thing, but I've hung around my share of transvestites and Celadon is about as convincing as Grizzly Adams in a Marilyn Monroe dress. You want Astrea to scream, "That's a man in a women's shift!" but she is apparently so dense that she falls for it all the way. The ending comes down totally as expected and, at that point, it couldn't have come soon enough.
Both lead actors are young, but neither plays their roles with much conviction. Stéphanie Crayncour is pretty but blank, her performance never rising to a convincing level. Andy Gillet is equally handsome, but maybe worse, if only because he has so many more lines. The bemoaning of his self-imposed exile and flailing around is far too comical to be taken seriously. At no point is there a reason for these two to be together except they were together at the start. Éric Rohmer has never been one of my favorite directors, but he has done far superior work here and, I suppose, has chosen the lightest of all possible plots to finish off his career.
Koch Lorber's release of The Romance of Astrea and Celadon is on par with most of their releases: bare-bones with mediocre picture and sound. The DVD is presented in full frame and, though IMDb lists the film as having an aspect of 1.85:1, this information does not seem correct. I cannot find confirmation to confirm either, but Rohmer does often film in tight ratios. At most, this transfer is cropped from a 1.66:1 original, still crazy for Koch to do, but not a deal breaker. The image, either way, is washed out and somewhat grainy. The film doesn't appear to have been filmed with any high tech cameras, so these imperfections can be expected. The stereo sound may as well be in mono; there is little separation but clear dialog. There are no extras.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
While there's a lot in this story that feels trite and silly, the landscapes and locations are absolutely stunning. Rohmer includes a disclaimer at the beginning of the film stating that the original locations of the scenario have been run over by development, so he had to find new locations to capture the magical, pastoral beauty of the original setting. His attempts here are a complete success; these locations look absolutely untouched by modern life though, ironically, they have now been trampled by scores of cast and crew members, catering trucks, and the like.
After The Romance of Astrea and Celadon, I would very much like to see Rohmer make another film; this is no way to end a career.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Koch Lorber
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