With Conte d'automne, the last in Eric Rohmer's Tales of the Four Seasons series, it was conceivable the director would rehash former glories with an orange glow and lots of leaves. Yet, at 78, he has found a fresh spin on old obsessions - the pursuit of romance, the differences between the sexes - turning in a sprightly, hugely enjoyable treat that renders many of his younger counterparts leaden by comparison.
Initially it does not look promising: a slow stilted opening introduces Magali (Romand), a middle-aged vineyard owner who feels lonely since her kids left home, finding companionship in best friend Isabelle (Riviere) and son's girlfriend Rosine (Alexia Portal). The movie picks up immeasurably as these two get to work in finding her a bloke; Rosine by setting her up with ex-philosophy tutor Etienne (Didier Sandre); Isabelle by putting an ad in a lonely hearts column, wooing the man who replies to the ad (an outstanding Libolt) with a mind to passing him on to Magali. Things are brought to a head as all the characters converge at a wedding, where hidden agendas and subterranean passions come deliciously to the surface.
Par for the Rohmer course, the insights into favourite concerns such as friendship, fidelity, and growing old remain witty and affectionate, the visual style is uncluttered and the performances attain gobsmacking levels of naturalism. Yet where An Autumn Tale differs from much of Rohmer's work is in its tight, almost farce-like plotting: the empathy established in the leisurely beginning pays off handsomely as the characters machinations and desires are intertwined at a fair old lick, moving the action to an unashamedly upbeat finale that slaps a mile wide grin across your face.