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Blu-Ray : Must Own
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Release Date: February 13th, 2024 Movie Release Year: 1990

Eric Rohmer’s Tales of the Four Seasons - The Criterion Collection

Overview -

Blu-ray Review By: Justin Remer

The reputation of the filmmakers in the French New Wave tends to hang on formal inventiveness, including the use of jump cuts and the shunning of the soundstage in favor of real locations. But let’s be honest: the Nouvelle Vague is also a fairly bookish crew whose fondness for intellectual dialogue and obscure literary references has made millions of would-be hipsters wonder if they should finally read some Balzac. Possibly the most dialogue-focused filmmaker in this bunch Eric Rohmer is highlighted with the Criterion Collection's new box of romantic dramedies, Tales of the Four Seasons with first-rate AV presentations and a generous helping of relevant extras. For art-house fans, this set is a Must Own.

Must Own
Rating Breakdown
Tech Specs & Release Details
Technical Specs:
Video Resolution/Codec:
1080p/AVC MPEG-4
Audio Formats:
Uncompressed monaural soundtracks
Release Date:
February 13th, 2024

Storyline: Our Reviewer's Take


Tales of the Four Seasons is the third film series that director Eric Rohmer made during his sizable film career. The first and best known came in the ‘60s: Six Moral Tales. The “moral” in these tales was the moral code each of the main characters had chosen to guide their lives by, whether that reflected common morality or not. The second arrived in the ‘80s, Comedies and Proverbs, and consisted of six stories loosely inspired by proverbs like, “It’s impossible to think of nothing.” Four Seasons was Rohmer’s 1990s – with a few side films dotted throughout the decade – and the premise is self-evident.

These frameworks are all typically pretty loose, and even Rohmer struggled to find the connective tissue between the Tales of the Four Seasons. In a 1998 audio interview included in this set, the director describes finding the echoes and callbacks between films after reflecting on the completed quartet later, but he had not set out with them in mind. This is partly because Rohmer is one of those artists who seems to be telling the same story every time he makes a film. Not literally - and Rohmer seems to self-consciously change locales and rarely reuse actors specifically to avoid being seen as spinning his wheels. But each of the three frameworks used for this series is as meaningful or irrelevant as the viewer wants to make them.

To this viewer, Rohmer’s different frameworks are effective in creating spaces for his characters to explore themselves – and that’s what keeps me coming back. Rohmer’s interest in clever plotting waxes and wanes depending on the film, but he never skimps on dialogue that builds and reveals the intellect, emotions, and obsessions of the people he puts onscreen.

In fact, the first film in this set, A Tale of Springtime (Conte de printemps; 1990) has the slightest and subtlest plot. Jeanne (Anne Teyssèdre), a young philosophy professor, is stuck without a place to stay because her cousin is overstaying her welcome in her apartment and she can’t bring herself to live in her boyfriend’s messy apartment while he’s out of town. At a party, she is befriended by teenage Natacha (Florence Darel) who offers to let her stay at her place – specifically, in her absent dad’s room. It turns out this is the first step in the teenager’s ploy to get Dad (Hugues Quester) to leave his young girlfriend and maybe find someone more suitable like the professor.

Many of Rohmer’s films are set during vacations and Jeanne is on a kind of vacation from her normal life in the film, living in someone else’s home and sleeping in another’s bed. Natacha almost treats it like playtime, showing off her piano skills and dragging Jeanne to see the family’s country house. Teyssèdre makes her character feel self-possessed but still a little displaced and unsure of where she wants to go next. One gets the sense that she doesn’t want to become Natacha’s new mom figure but doesn’t mind entertaining the notion for a few days at least.

The second film in the set, A Tale of Winter (Conte d’hiver; 1992), might be the best of the bunch, while also turning the typical Rohmer story on its head. Let’s say a Rohmer flick is usually built around a main character taking a “vacation” from their current relationship with a new person/situation but then eventually deciding to return to normal life. The film literally starts with its main character, Félicie (Charlotte Véry), on vacation with the man of her dreams. At the end of the summer, she gives him her address – accidentally, the wrong address – and returns to normal life. The film abruptly jumps ahead five years (and a few seasons), and Félicie is a single mother knee-deep in normal life. She is torn between two lovers – neither of whom is her dream man/baby daddy from that glorious summer. If this film is to have a happy ending – and I’ll just say, this film is a comedy, not a tragedy – it will probably have to involve the return of summer in one way or another.

Véry’s role is a tricky one because Félicie’s actions throughout the film – for example, leaving one man to chase another, then scrapping the whole idea – come off as kind of silly, even ditzy, but Véry makes sure that the character’s impetuousness feels emotionally true. Rohmer says in a supplemental interview that he was inspired by the fantastical plotting of Shakespeare’s Winter’s Tale (a performance of a scene from the play is included in this film) and wanted to find a way to reconcile those kinds of story devices with a real-world setting. The emotionally grounded performances go a long way toward making that vision come to life successfully.

The third film in the set, 
A Tale of Summer (Conte d’été; 1996), is the only one with a male as its central character, and it is supposedly fairly autobiographical for Rohmer. If so, one might wonder if he is being remarkably self-critical or alternatively cutting his younger self too much slack. Here, the viewer is left to project on our protagonist, Gaspard (Melvil Poupard), since we don’t get one of those handy voice-overs through which many of the male (anti)heroes in the Six Moral Tales spoke to us.

Twentysomething Gaspard has come to a Brittany beach town to meet up with the girl he’d like to make his girlfriend. She, it appears, is a no-show. Rather than abandon hope immediately, Gaspard hangs around and starts writing a sea shanty love song for her on his guitar. (Of course, who wouldn’t?) In the meantime, he starts hanging out with cute waitress/moonlighting ethnologist Margot (Pauline at the Beach’s Amanda Langlet). She’s got a traveling boyfriend, but that’s no bother – I mean, Gaspard isn’t looking for love right now anyway, right? That doesn’t keep him from making moves on Solène (Gwenaëlle Simon), the hottie who eyes him intensely at the disco.

Gaspard is most appealing when he is unloved and lacking confidence. However, the film is about slowly building that confidence and multiplying his entanglements. Eventually, he must deal with the fact that he has separately asked three different gals – Margot, Solène, and you guessed it, his much-belated paramour Lena (Aurelia Nolin) – to go on the same romantic trip on overlapping days. Gaspard’s indecision about these romantic options – come on, Margot’s clearly the best! – can make not only the character frustrating to watch, but the film as well. This is clearly by design, and the film’s ending is ultimately satisfying, but certain stretches are tedious enough that one might be tempted to throttle Gaspard and Rohmer both.

The last film in the set, 
A Tale of Autumn (Conte d’automne; 1998), echoes the first, with another story of odd plots hatched by would-be matchmakers. It is also the only film in the quartet focused on middle-aged characters. Widowed winemaker Magali (Béatrice Romand) yearns for new love but is too tired or scared to try to seek it out. Her son’s college girlfriend Rosine (Alexia Portal) thinks her ex-professor/ex-boyfriend might be the perfect match - if she can get him to stop chasing students. Meanwhile, her longtime friend Isabelle (Marie Rivière) concocts an elaborate scheme to snag someone via a personal ad, pretending to be Magali. She actually dates a guy, Gerald (Alain Libolt), then has to pick the right moment to break the bad news and see if Gerald might date the real Magali instead.

A Tale of Autumn might have an even more outlandish plot than Tale of Winter, but Rohmer never cuts corners with his characters. Autumn might also be the warmest of these four films, especially in the way it respects and cares for those characters, rather than just putting them through a few farcical paces. In fact, my reaction to watching Autumn was kind of the inverse of watching Summer. I started off wary of the plot complications I saw coming ahead, but I ended up more and more enamored of the characters and impressed by how intelligent and honest their discussions and behavior became.

Rohmer’s Tales of the Four Seasons is a delightful and acutely observed collection of romantic comedy-dramas.

Vital Disc Stats: The Blu-ray
Tales of the Four Seasons is presented on four discs, housed in a digipak case with a slipcover and a booklet featuring photos, film credits, and an essay by Imogen Sara Smith. Each disc loads to a signature Criterion static menu.

Video Review


All four AVC-encoded 1080p transfers are outstanding, with each of the four films restored in 2K from the original camera negatives. A Tale of Winter was shot on 16mm, while other films were shot on 35mm. The first two films are framed at 1.66:1, while the last two are framed at 1.37:1. Colors are richly saturated and seasonally appropriate. Even the grainier, drabber approach to the cinematography of Winter still reads as vivid and organic. In motion, these transfers just look perfect.

Audio Review


All four films are presented in LPCM 1.0 mono mixes. In the interviews included in this set, Rohmer's sound engineer talks about his insistence on direct sound captured during filming. Considering this, the clarity of these tracks is commendable. Obviously, the reliance on direct sound does not preclude mixing and design, but these soundtracks have a fair amount of personality and depth without using library FX or non-diegetic music. All the dialogue is in French, with optional English subtitles.

Special Features


In addition to the booklet mentioned above, Criterion has supplemented the main features with a collection of interviews, short films, and one feature-length fly-on-the-wall making-of. Optional English subtitles are available for French dialogue, but no English SDH for the scattered moments of English speech.

On the A Tale of Springtime disc:

  • Eric Rohmer on A Tale of Springtime (HD 3:49) - Excerpt from a 1990 audio interview with critic Serge Daney where the director talks about his vision for approaching a quartet of films relating to the four seasons.
  • The Kreutzer Sonata (HD 44:17) - A 1956 short film from Rohmer, based on a Tolstoy story, in which the director also stars as a jealous husband whose romantic obsession turns murderous. Rohmer's pal Jean-Luc Godard also makes an appearance.
  • Tales of the Four Seasons Trailer (HD 1:33) - A new trailer cut by Janus Films.

On the A Tale of Winter disc: 

  • Eric Rohmer on A Tale of Winter (HD 11:29) - A 1992 audio clip with Rohmer interviewed by critic Michel Ciment. He talks about the influence of Shakespeare's A Winter's Tale on the film and the semi-unbelievable and melodramatic elements the Shakespeare model allowed him to incorporate in his story.
  • Four Collaborators (HD 45:39) - Producer Françoise Etchegaray, editor Mary Stephen, cinematographer Diane Baratier, and sound engineer Pascal Ribier discuss their working relationships with Eric Rohmer over many decades. Rohmer fostered a tight-knit pseudo-family among his collaborators and would have them contribute far beyond what their job titles would typically dictate. Rohmer went above and beyond too: the anecdotes here include descriptions of him shopping for wardrobe and doing the clapboard himself before each take. His film family also discusses how Rohmer never used his birth name (Maurice Schérer) except with his real family and the filmmaker's two worlds never came together until his funeral in 2010.

On the A Tale of Summer disc:

  • Eric Rohmer on A Tale of Summer (HD 12:40) - A 1996 audio interview with critic Michel Ciment. They discuss the Brittany shooting location and Rohmer's many films set during summer vacation. This includes Pauline at the Beach, which shares a leading lady with this film, Amanda Langlet. This casting choice and others are also explored.
  • The Making of A Tale of Summer (HD 1:37:37) - A feature-length collection of edited Handicam footage shot by producer Françoise Etchegaray during the production of the film.

On the A Tale of Autumn disc:

  • Eric Rohmer on A Tale of Autumn (HD 12:08) - Another interview excerpt with critic Michel Ciment. Rohmer reflects on the connections between the four films,  which are more intuitive and ephemeral than any sort of grand design for the series. He also talks about working with actors who've appeared in earlier films of his only after enough time has passed that they bring a different quality to the new film.
  • A Farmer in Montfaucon (HD 13:44) - A documentary portrait of a lady farmer as she and her family go through their daily routine. Made by Rohmer in 1968.

Final Thoughts

Criterion already delivered a first-rate box set for Eric Rohmer's Six Moral Tales. Tales of the Four Seasons is not as well known -- especially in the US -- but is no less excellent of a series. Rohmer's acutely observed characters feel utterly real, even if his carefully crafted dialogue is a bit elevated. The new restorations look and sound outstanding, and Criterion's supplements are generous and thoughtful. This set is the perfect compliment to Six Moral Tales and, especially for art house fans, it's a Must Own

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