At 88 years old, French auteur Eric Rohmer is still at the top of his game detailing the intricacies of young romantic relationships with his latest, The Romance of Astrea and Celadon. Reportedly the last feature film by the octogenarian French New Wave alum, this adaptation of Honore d’Urfe’s 17th-century novel tracks the tumultuous, forbidden affair between a shepherd and shepherdess from feuding families in the pastoral countryside of fifth-century Gaul. Shunned by his love Astrea for a perceived infidelity, the earnest, heart-broken romantic Celadon attempts suicide only to end up in the care of three beautiful near-nude nymphs who nurse him back to health but keep him prisoner.
With his heart elsewhere, Celadon plots Shakespearean deceptions and gender-bending to return to his love. A story such as this would reek of stale formal stateliness in lesser hands, but the experienced Rohmer twists the formula by setting the fifth-century action in the simple, costumed elegance of the 17th, while allowing a decidedly modern, conversational tone for the dialogue. The combination produces a dreamy, time-out-of-time effect — a marvel given the economic subtly of longtime collaborator Diane Baratier’s cinematography. As the lovelorn leads, Andy Gillet and Stephanie Crayencour are naturals with physical beauty expected of such bucolic environs. But they are not pretty faces alone. Their charms extend into the performances, bringing needed sincerity and weight to the breezy melodramatic entanglements. Grade: A