Here, in vigorous old age, comes another master: Eric Rohmer, age 79, whose Autumn Tale is now brightening the lives of all who watch it.
As attentive to the seasons as the author of Eyes Wide Shut but incapable of his ponderousness, Rohmer ventures for this film into the Rhône valley, at a moment when grapes are being harvested, students are returning to school and the middle-aged are learning to hope that they might love again. Magali (Béatrice Romand), brusque in widowhood, runs a small vineyard the way she manages her hair: The first is half-choked with wild vegetation, the second sprouts untamed about her head, and both can claim to be more flavorful for being left to grow. Gérald (Alain Libolt), shy and tentative in divorce, keeps his own hair slicked down, as a salesman must, but hints at a southern warmth beneath his too-polite manner. You can't doubt that these people were meant for each other. But it takes a while for them to meet, given the mixed motives of the women who are helping to fix up Magali.
Her friend Isabelle (Marie Rivière) undertakes the project with a certain deviousness, as if searching for a romance of her own. (She's perfectly content in her marriage, she says, just before taking out a personal ad.) As for Magali's second helper, she's another of Eric Rohmer's beautiful, articulate, iron-willed young women. This one is a college student named Rosine (Alexia Portal); and though her methods are far more straightforward than Isabelle's, her aims are even more convoluted.
Typical Rohmer, you might say. The scenery is lovely, though it's interrupted by the cooling towers of a nuclear plant. The people are charming, though they're willful and conniving. The plot is simple, though it meanders all over the countryside. Unforced, relaxed, self-assured and utterly absorbing, Autumn Tale is the work of a master with nothing left to prove but everything to give.