The late New Wave auteur Eric Rohmer equated his films to novels — that’s what auteur means, after all — and A Summer’s Tale feels like a great beach read of a movie, that deceptively slender paperback you tuck into your luggage because it’s substantial without weighing much.
The plot of this 1996 film, newly restored and in its first American theatrical release, seems quaintly simple: On a Brittany beach-town holiday, a moody math student (Melvil Poupaud) waits to meet his girlfriend (Aurélia Nolin), meanwhile making a friend (Amanda Langlet) who wants to set him up with her friend (Gwenaëlle Simon). Ensuing complications play out as a perfectly minimal farce, with edges planed so smooth as to be almost invisible. Days and moods pass in supple long takes as the characters perambulate and colloquially philosophize. The Rohmer touch consists of nonchalance and effortless sensuality, not just in the people, but also in the landscape, somehow even in the air.
And what better context for a gentle retrospective reminder that the sweet leisure time of young adulthood can also be a crucible of sexual and aspirational frustration? “It’s easier to be yourself with a friend than with a lover,” says the young man’s new friend, and we’ll spend a movie seeing about that. A Summer’s Tale makes obvious this director’s influence on the epic walk-and-talks and romantic inquisitions of latter-day Richard Linklater, or why in 2010 Noah Baumbach named his son Rohmer. It’s a merciful vision, and a vacation we all deserve.