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A Filmmaker for All Seasons

Alternate Screen

In 'Autumn's Tale,' Eric Rohmer focuses on a middle-aged widow.

July 22, 1999|DENNIS McLELLAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

At 79, director Eric Rohmer ("Claire's Knee," "Pauline at the Beach") is one of the grand old men of the French New Wave.

That revolutionary group of intellectual and mostly young cinephiles and film critics (Francois Truffaut, Claude Chabrol, Jean-Luc Godard, et al.) shattered the stale conventions of French filmmaking 40 years ago.

"Autumn Tale," Rohmer's latest film, is considered a turning point for the veteran filmmaker: He's abandoned his usual obsession with youth--and beautiful young women--and instead focuses on a middle-aged widow who runs a remote vineyard in the south of France.

The romantic comedy opens Friday at Edwards Town Center in Costa Mesa.

Alone now that her two children have left home, Magali (Beatrice Romand) confides to her old friend, the happily married Isabelle (Marie Riviere) that only one thing is missing in her life: a loving relationship with a man, something that she believes is too late for her to find.

The shy Magali is horrified when the sophisticated Isabelle suggests she place a personal ad in the local paper. So Isabelle secretly places one on her friend's behalf--then poses as Magali in order to handpick the most promising suitor.

But there's more than one matchmaker working behind the scenes. Rosine (Alexia Portal), who is attempting to break off an affair with an older philosophy professor by dating Magali's son, schemes to set up Magali with the professor.

Winner of the 1998 Venice Film Festival award for best original screenplay, "Autumn Tale" is the last installment of Rohmer's four-part "Tales of Four Seasons" series of films made in the '90s.

Stephen Holden, reviewing for the New York Times, says that,

despite its occasionally "labored moments," the film "is as sublimely warming an experience as the autumn sun that shines benevolently on the vineyard owned by the film's central character . . . It isn't the story but the telling that makes 'Autumn' such a rich, emotionally satisfying experience. As the five main characters reveal their fantasies and fears, each emerges as an astoundingly complex and fully rounded human being."

Raves David Ansen in Newsweek: "Anyone who complains that there are no movies out there for grown-ups should immediately head for 'Autumn Tale.' "

* "Autumn Tale" opens Friday at Edwards Town Center, 3199 Park Center Drive, Costa Mesa. In French with English subtitles. Running time: 110 minutes. Rated PG. (714) 751-4184.

Life of Scottish Family Turned Upside-Down

The misty Scottish Highlands provide the backdrop for "My Life So Far," director Hugh Hudson's new film about an eccentric family living on an old estate in the 1920s.

The film, opening Friday at Edwards South Coast Village in Santa Ana, is told through the voice of Fraser, a 10-year-old boy. His family includes his beautiful mother (Mary Elizabeth Mastranonio), his domineering grandmother (Rosemary Harris) and his irrepressibly romantic father (Colin Firth)--a misunderstood genius with the only moss factory on the European continent.

Life on the estate is enchantingly idyllic for young Fraser--until Uncle Morris (Malcolm McDowell), a no-nonsense businessman and the sole heir to the estate, turns up with his alluring French fiancee, Heloise (Irene Jacob).

The presence of the beautiful Heloise--and his father's response to her--breaks the magical spell of Fraser's idyllic childhood.

The film is based on the autobiography of British television executive Sir Dennis Forman, whose charismatic, inventor father was one of the first to realize the medicinal properties of sphagnum moss.

While praising the cast, Time magazine's Richard Schickel found the character of the father "unfocused" and the film "disjointed, only queasily humorous and too casual about its dark undercurrents."

Side note: The film reunites director Hudson with producer David Puttnam for the first time since "Chariots of Fire" in 1981.

* "My Life So Far" opens Friday at Edwards South Coast Village, 1561 W. Sunflower Ave., Santa Ana. Rated PG-13. Running time: 93 minutes. (714) 540-0594.

An Oscar Nomination--and Some Bad Reviews

So, what's on the cinematic bill of fare at Prego Restaurant in Irvine, which is hosting a monthly Sunday night Italian film festival?

"Farinelli: il castrato," director Gerard Corbiau's 1994 film based on the true story of Carlo Broschi (a.k.a. Farinelli), the flamboyant 18th century Italian castrato.

Castrated when he was 10 to preserve his spectacular falsetto, Farinelli was a rock star of his era, his arias and peacock persona causing women to swoon.

The film focuses on the relationship between Farinelli (Stefano Dionisi) and his older brother Riccardo (Enrico Lo Verso), a mediocre songwriter who became Farinelli's principal composer--to the disappointment of Handel and Europe's other great composers.

Although "Farinelli" earned a best foreign film Oscar nomination, many critics were unimpressed.

The San Francisco Chronicle called the film "bubble gum masquerading as art--an absurd Italian import that wants to say something about the price of fame and of being different but instead exploits its subject for cheap titillation."

Not to be outdone, the reviewer for the San Francisco Examiner called the film "the kind of high-camp, low-cohesiveness movie that inspires snippy reviews."

Side note: Dionisi's soaring voice is actually a digitally "morphed" blend of countertenor Derek Lee Ragin and soprano Ewa Mallas Godlewska. Which proves you just can't find a good castrato these days.

* Dinner will be served at 6 p.m. Sunday, followed by the screening, then dessert and coffee. Cost: $40 per person for dinner, tax, gratuity (alcoholic beverages not included). For reservations, call Prego, 18420 Von Karman Ave., Irvine, at (949) 553-1333.

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