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Autumn Tale

With Autumn Tale, 78-year-old French New Wave director Eric Rohmer wraps up his four-film seasonal cycle—and perhaps his career—with a warm, gently farcical, deliciously complicated coda on the difficulties of finding love in middle age. The elements in virtually all of his work are in place here—lively pairs framed by picaresque backdrops, dialogue rich with philosophy and feeling, and romantic entanglements worthy of Austen and Shakespeare—yet after four decades, their familiarity is both reassuring and bracingly nostalgic. Béatrice Romand, the faintly exotic actress featured in Claire's Knee and four other Rohmer films, plays a winegrower in the Côte du Rhone valley concerned about heading into her later years without a male companion. Her closest friends, fortysomething bookseller Marie Riviere and young ingenue Alexia Portal, devise matchmaking schemes independent of each other: The former recruits a charming widower (Alain Libolt), the latter her former professor and ex-lover (Didier Sandre). Rohmer dovetails their separate plots with effortless precision and grace, leading to a climax rife with comic misunderstandings and, finally, great poignancy. No other director, with the possible exception of Tokyo Story's Yasujiro Ozu—who, not coincidentally, also dealt with seasons—has offered such a consistency of vision, with Autumn Tale delivering another minor variation on a four-decade-long conversation. That it arrives on the tail end of his career, fitting so aptly with his look at the possibilities of late-period romance, only makes the film that much more affecting.

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