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The Romance of Astrea and Celadon

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The Romance of Astrea and Celadon

Jean-Marie Maurice Scherer, also known as the film director Eric Rohmer, is 88 years old.  He has directed what he claims will be his last film, The Romance of Astrea and Celadon.


Most of Rohmer's best-known films – My Night at Maud's, Claire's Knee, Pauline at the Beach, The Aviator's Wife– deal with the romantic entanglements and disentanglements of young people. Without a doubt, this 88-year old former critic understands the psychology of young people better than anyone else on the planet.


During his 50-year film career, Rohmer departed from his wry, talky observations of love — or the lack of it — only a couple of times; most notably,  in his wonderfully stylized pastiche of the French Revolution, The Lady and the Duke, and his equally stylized historical romance film Perceval.


The Romance of Astrea and Celadon falls somewhere between these two styles. It's based on an obscure 17th century French novel set in 5th century Gaul . There, shepherds, Nymphs and druids romp through nature proselytizing on courtly love. But like the stiff and often rigid constructs that are at the moral center of Rohmer's films, something wonderful happens in The Romance of Astrea and Celadon.  It opens up into a film of wonderful irony and sensuality. Celadon is a good-looking shepherd with his love — the shepherdess Astrea. She thinks Celadon has betrayed her when she sees him with another girl. In reality, Celadon was trying to fool his disapproving parents. Astrea forbids Celadon to ever speak to the girl again. Being the sensible young man he is, he tries to drown himself, but unbeknownst to Astrea, Celadon is rescued by a group of nymphs downstream. They take him to their castle, and Celadon considers it heaven. But in order to get back to Astrea, he is convinced to disguise himself as a woman.


This is the stuff of old-fashioned romance and opera perhaps, but what sets the film apart and makes it so special and wonderful is Rohmer's embrace of pure fantasy, amplified by engaging actors who are young and beautiful. He contrasts the purity of nature with the artifice of courtly love.  The Romance of Astrea and Celadon, like all of Rohmer's films is wordy. He brilliantly focuses on a central point; what is this human need for love?


Rohmer explores this question by re-imagining human love as a parable, paradoxically ancient, but modern at the same time. There's no question in Rohmer's universe that it is love— the quest for it, its elusiveness, with its duplicity, disappointment and resurgence — which frames human action, interaction, and reaction. Rohmer's love immediately calls into question the essential moral themes of commitment, fidelity, loyalty and truth. In Rohmer's allegorical view, being the most apolitical of themes, love is politics beyond choosing political sides: it is the dynamic which drives mankind — and determines our destiny.


Seen contextually within the total body of Rohmer's work — The Six Mortal Tales , and his series on the seasons — The Tale of Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter– The Romance of Astrea and Celadon is the fitting culmination of his personal preoccupations. But this swan song also brings out the genius of Eric Rohmer — the 88-year old's ability to look at human interaction with gentle irony, and to always see the potential all of us have to find love and happiness.


In these tired times, as films filled with negativity and the ugliness that we are capable of in our relations with one another proliferate movie screens, The Romance of Astrea and Celadon comes across as shock — a stirring celebration of how love transformative power molds every human face into an object of beauty. It may be a myth — but some myths are worth hanging onto.


Milos Stehlik’s commentaries reflect his own views and not necessarily those of Facets Multimedia, Worldview or Chicago Public Radio.

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