The Romance Of Astrea And Celadon

The Romance Of Astrea And Celadon


Reviewed by: Andrew Robertson

Eric Rohmer is not the most accessible of directors. Somewhat of an enfant terrible, he is now an auteur, his works often a challenge to the cinephile rather than an immediate delight. The Romance Of Astrea And Celadon is more of the same.

Loosely based on L'Astreé, the great work of French novelist Honoré d'Urfé, this is an odd film. The novel is set in seventh century Gaul, romantic, druidic Gaul in fact, the confection of the 17th century that has clean and well-fed peasants carving poems on trees and practising a post-Roman monotheism that bears a striking similarity to Catholicism.

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D'Urfé's novel is from the time of the Catholic League, and while Celadon became a byword for passionate love, the quality of the romance is suspect. A shepherd and a shepherdess are in love. Their families are in dispute, so they must hide their love for a time. She suspects him of infidelity, forbids him to see her, and then he throws himself in a river.

There are allegations that the novel is an account of Henry IV's womanising, but in this truncated version Celadon has only one love. Many offer him their love, however, and countless others offer to help him with their love. There are nymphs, not genuine mythological creatures but successors to naiads, who may, in their words, "marry druids or knights" as long as "no man succeeds them". We see no knights, though there are druids aplenty, and no small measure of transvestitism.

Celadon has womanly features, we are told, and certainly Andy Gillet has a soft face, but one suspects this might have played better on a stage than film. His love Astrée (Stéphanie Crayencour) is beautiful, classically so, flowing locks, pale curves. The film's eroticisim is that of a painting: uncovered breasts, soft lips, ever present, somewhat discomfiting, unreal.

This is an overtly constructed film. Rohmer gives us a title card that tells us these are 'the Gauls of the seventh century' of the 17th century, Marxist theory here: viewed from within the society that creates. It's two-fold here, Rohmer's picture of how this film would play. There are times when one wonders if the perfect audience for this picture are the petty nobility of the era. The chief druid gives a theological lecture that has been, one assumes, designed to give a sense of wellbeing to its audience for realising these idealised rustics have discovered the rudiments of Catholicism. There's a smugness, perhaps, in the artfulness.

With interstitial title cards this harks back to the silent era, but in the lighting there is a sense of Dogme, in the presentation and discourse adaptations for schools audiences, and in some of the cast of the forest. The novel is set in the Forez, a province by the Loire, but industrialisation (and conifer forests) rendered it unsuitable so filming took place in the Auvergne.

Some films invite interpretation, play with their audience, with their subject. There will doubtless be essays and papers written on this film, but this is more because of what it doesn't have. Rohmer's intention to adapt this work is apparently after Zucca, indeed, Rohmer has said the film is dedicated to him, but this isn't New Wave, it is something else. There are too many visions at work here, too many sets of interpretation. Whatever was central here seems lost, obfuscated by artifice.

A film is a constructed text, an adaptation of another text more so. Subtitles, the language barrier, add another layer. In the film there are songs and poems which are well translated, even preserving the structure of the rhyme. Other parts fall flat. Gillet and Crayencour are pretty, certainly, but at times they seem to be blocking for a painting rather than acting. This is the Lucas school of film-making: actors exist to fill space.

That may be interpretative weight, this may be phenomenological confusion. There is still a problem with the film, which is perhaps the point. The novel contains more than its fair share of anachronism, timelessness, and as a film this has plenty. There are moments that drag. At times it's easy to hope this love story will become a tragedy so that something might happen. This is a story of an endless love, and sadly it sometimes feels it. It is most concerning though that one hopes that the things that feel wrong with a film are deliberate.

Reviewed on: 11 Sep 2008
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The Romance Of Astrea And Celadon packshot
A shepherd and shepherdess fall in love but are forced to live apart, leading to jealousy and deception.
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Director: Eric Rohmer

Writer: Eric Rohmer, based on the book by Honoré d'Urfé.

Starring: Andy Gillet, Stéphanie Crayencour, Cécile Cassel, Véronique Reymond, Rosette, Jocelyn Quivrin

Year: 2007

Runtime: 109 minutes

BBFC: 12A - Adult Supervision

Country: France, Italy, Spain


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