Feature Four Frames

Four Frames: discover Éric Rohmer’s heartfelt testament to parenthood

Éric Rohmer was fascinated by philosopher Blaise Pascal’s ‘wager’ of faith, a literal gamble one takes in either believing or not believing in God. Believing is the best ‘bet’ one can make, since there is no way of losing: “If you win, you win everything; if you lose, you lose nothing. Wager that he exists then, without hesitating!”.

Although Félicie (Charlotte Véry) of Rohmer’s A Tale of Winter openly rejects religious devotion, she makes a similar gamble. She loves Charles (Frédéric van den Driessche), a man with whom she shared a passionate summer romance and who is also the unknowing father of their child, Elise (Ava Loraschi). However, due to a simple slip of the tongue (she gave him the wrong street for her address), they have lost contact for five years.

Ironically, the film’s turning point takes place inside of a church and marks Félicie’s newborn faith: not in God, but in being reunited with Charles. Upon entering a chapel so her daughter can see the nativity scene, she has an epiphany. “Maybe finding him’s unlikely,” she later reflects. “But that’s no reason for me to give up…if I find him, it’ll be a joy so great I’ll gladly give my life for it.” Naturally, another character is quick to point out the similarities between her outlook and Pascal’s wager.

Félicie dedicates herself to the remote possibility of finding Charles after her realisation in the church. Her wishes are granted at the end of the film when she and her daughter rather abruptly run into him on a bus. While this scene may seem perfunctory (it occurs moments before the end credits), it underlines the writer-director’s interest in the mother and daughter’s journey over the reunion itself. It also subverts the traditional romance narrative by ending where most films begin: the “meet cute” is the climax, and the parents’ shared love for one another and their child lends it far more emotional gravity.

This happy ending negates the commonly-held image of Rohmer as an emotionless intellectual: the boring academic of the French New Wave. His characters brim with passion and discuss life’s many mysteries with an articulate earnestness rarely seen in film. With this perspective in mind, A Tale of Winter becomes a heartfelt testament to parenthood’s binding powers.

By Thomas M. Puhr

Thomas M. Puhr lives in Chicago and is a regular contributor to Bright Lights Film Journal and Film International. He is also an editor for The Big Picture. His book Fate in Film: A Deterministic Approach to Cinema is available from Wallflower Press.

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