Sunday, June 07, 2009

Scenery that retains its wild poetry and bucolic charm

We watched Eric Rohmer's The Romance of Astrea and Celadon last night. As Peter Bradshaw wrote in his review last year: 'it is an adaptation of the 1607 pastoral fantasy by Honoré d'Urfe about a lovelorn shepherd in fifth-century Gaul. There are absolutely no modern twists or inventions. The actors wear flowing robes and speak in earnest classical language. The movie is performed largely in the open air, and the wandering camera follows the players unobtrusively, keeping largely a stone's throw away. The action takes place on sunny, blowy days in an unspoilt rural landscape that could belong to any century, and filmed in such a way that it could have been made at any time in the past 30 years.'

The film has divided opinion and I'm with those like Jonathan Romney who like it. In pastoral literature, landscape is of little importance, love is all. But in filming the shepherds and shepherdesses of Honoré d'Urfe, Rohmer gives them a real backdrop, where their dialogue competes with the sounds of birdsong, water and wind in the trees. The film's opening text explains that they chose to film in a location which retains its bucolic charm (the Auvergne) - see below (the final words of this paragraph are "et de leur charme bucolique.") It makes you wonder what the film would have looked like if they had filmed it in the Forez plain, where the book was set, but I am glad Rohmer took the less obvious option of playing it straight rather than devising a post-pastoral update on the story.

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