NYFF 2007: The Death of Skipping (THE ROMANCE OF ASTREA AND CELADON)

By tully | "Boredom at Its Boredest" by Michael Tully September 29, 2007 at 2:22AM

NYFF 2007: The Death of Skipping (THE ROMANCE OF ASTREA AND CELADON)
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Hurry! Hurry! You only have thirty minutes to get to the Frederick P. Rose Hall for this morning's first NYFF screening of the day (at 10am)! So hurr--wait a minute, on second thought, keep doing what you're doing. Even if it's scraping gum off the sidewalk or getting shat on by a pigeon, you're better off doing that.

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I could have played footsie with Rufus Wainwright for two hours and I would have felt infinitely less gay than I did after watching Eric Rohmer’s THE ROMANCE OF ASTREA AND CELADON. Calling it this year’s GARDENS IN AUTUMN doesn’t do it justice. I might go so far as to call it the worst movie ever programmed at the New York Film Festival.

Your honor, I present to you the prosecution’s first and only exhibit, the film’s official synopsis:

“Celadon the shepherd and Astrea the shepherdess are united in pure love. Misled by a jealous suitor, Astrea orders Celadon to stay away from her for evermore. In his despair, he jumps into a rushing river. She thinks he is dead, but he is secretly rescued by a bevy of nymphs.

Crazed with love and despair, coveted by the nymphs, surrounded by rivals and compelled to dress up as a woman in order to approach his beloved, how can he get her to recognize him without disobeying her.”

I don’t know how it’s possible, but the actual film is about ten thousand times more preposterous than that. How can I best describe it? Let’s see. Okay, try this: “After swilling a case of Mike’s Hard Lemonade, M. Night Shyamalan stumbles into a late-night double-bill of TROLL 2 and POISON and starts writing his next script.” Now drain the genius out of that concept and we’re getting somewhere.

The actor who plays Celadon (Andy Gillet) is incredibly good-looking, to the point of distraction. And while Astrea (Stephanie Crayencour) is also attractive, she is nowhere near as alluring as Gillet, who looks more like a runway model from the 21st Century than a distraught shepherd from the 1600s. But one can’t fault Rohmer for casting a pretty boy as his lead shepherd, I suppose. It just adds another layer of disbelief to the proceedings.

One can, however, fault Rohmer for introducing the most abrasive and grating character the screen has ever seen. His name is Rodolphe (Pauly Hylas), and he is, to put it gently, a goddamn, motherfucking A-S-S-H-O-L-E. During a particularly unbearable scene in which Rodolphe unleashes an obnoxious torrent of sissified taunts, I literally almost got up from my seat, charged the screen, and started swatting him out of the frame. At first I thought this was simply the performance, but now that I’ve had time to think about it, I’ve decided that this actor, Pauly Hylas, took a role he didn’t want to take, and the only way to amuse himself was to play it incomprehensibly over-the-top. Because if he was actually trying to deliver a serious performance, he should never be allowed to act again. Then again, who am I to blame (or even judge) an actor’s performance in a film set in the 1600s, directed by an eighty-something man, in a world where skipping is commonplace?

Eric Rohmer has stated that THE ROMANCE OF ASTREA AND CELADON is his final film, but, for film history’s sake, I think it would have been better if he had retired before embarking on this ridiculous, fey journey into the nymph-filled past.

(To be fair, I’ve stumbled into a smattering of positive reactions to the film (here and here), but I just can't seem to find anything redeeming in this thing, even in a so-bad-it's-good kind of way.)

This article is related to: Indie Film