Season's End

Anyone who complains that there are no movies out there for grown-ups should immediately head for "Autumn Tale," the final--and best--of Eric Rohmer's 1990s series "Tales of the Four Seasons." Of course, the 79-year-old director has been, in his way, as obsessed with youth as the most lubricious Hollywood producer: from "Claire's Knee" to "Pauline at the Beach" to "Summer's Tale," the object of desire in his films has almost always been a beautiful young girl.

"Autumn Tale" marks a significant change. Here, ripeness is all. The two women who dominate the film, Magali and Isabelle (played by Rohmer veterans Beatrice Romand and Marie Riviere), are old friends now in their mid-40s. The happily married Isabelle, a bookseller in the city, takes it upon herself to find a man for the widowed Magali, a vital but lonely vintner from the Rhone Valley. Since Magali refuses to take out a personal ad, Isabelle deviously places one for her, and poses as her friend to scout prospective suitors. Complicating matters considerably, the man she deems most appropriate (Alain Libolt) takes a shine to Isabelle before discovering it's really Magali he's supposed to fall for.

At the same time, Magali's son's 25-year-old girlfriend Rosine (Alexia Portal) tries to help by fixing her up with a vain, loquacious philosophy professor--who happens to be Rosine's ex-lover. The day of reckoning comes at the wedding of Isabelle's daughter, when the unsuspecting Magali has her first encounter with the men her friends have selected for her.

The setup has the makings of classical farce. But anyone who has seen a Rohmer movie knows to expect a subtler form of laughter. The director's gently observant manner, his no-frills middle-distance camera style haven't changed in four decades, and why should they? This funny and heart-wrenching tale of friendship, courtship and autumnal passion feels as fresh and spontaneous as the films that made his international reputation in the '60s, such as "My Night at Maude's." As always, the story is carried by talk--no filmmaker is so attentive to the ebb and flow of conversation, to the nuances of civilized discourse. But what gives this romantic comedy a deeper charm, a special poignancy, is that extra seasoning these well-traveled, wonderfully imagined characters possess. "Autumn Tale" will be remembered as a vintage Rohmer harvest.