CINÉSALON: THE TREE, THE MAYOR, AND THE MEDIATHEQUE (L’ARBRE, LE MAIRE ET LA MÉDIATHÈQUE) (LES SEPTS HASARDS) (Éric Rohmer, 1993)
French Institute Alliance Française, Florence Gould Hall
55 East 59th St. between Madison & Park Aves.
Tuesday, February 17, 4:00 & 7:30
Series continues Tuesdays through February 24
Éric Rohmer’s The Tree, the Mayor and the Mediatheque is a delightfully simple, outrageously funny satire that stands apart from the majority of the French auteur’s works, especially his three famous series: Six Moral Tales, Comedies and Proverbs, and Tales of the Four Seasons. “French can be illogical, as we’ll see,” school principal Marc Rossignol (Fabrice Luchini) tells his young students at the beginning, and the same can be said for the French characters in the film as well, each one thinking they are nothing if not completely logical. Rohmer divides The Tree, the Mayor and the Mediatheque into seven chapters, each built around a conditional “if” clause; for example, chapter four begins, “If Blandine Lenoir, at the monthly ‘Tomorrow,” had not, while recording a cultural broadcast, inadvertently unplugged her answering machine…” Each chapter pits philosophical, sociopolitical foes against one another as the small rural town of Saint-Juire-Champgillon prepares to build a new cultural, sports, and media center on an expanse of greenery that is home to a large, beautiful old tree. The center is the pet project of the mayor, Julien Dechaumes (Pascal Greggory), who aspires to higher office, while Rossignol is dead-set against anyone tampering with the natural environment. The battle heats up as magazine editor Régis Lebrun-Blondet (François-Marie Banier) hires freelance journalist Blandine Lenoir (Clémentine Amouroux) to do a story on the town’s situation.
Arguments abound over parking lots, the relative values of country vs. city, traditional farming vs. new advances, form vs. function, politics and ecology, and chance vs. the imponderable nature of history, involving Rossignol, Dechaumes, Lebrun-Blondet, Lenoir, architect Antoine Pergola (Michel Jaouen), the mayor’s girlfriend, author Bérénice Beaurivage (Arielle Dombasle), and even Rossignol’s ten-year-old daughter, Zoé (Galaxie Barbouth). Oddly, and most refreshingly, the extremely French rational, irrational, scientific, metaphysical, subtle, obvious, logical, and illogical discussions don’t involve any smoking, drinking, or sex. Even so, The Tree, the Mayor and the Mediatheque, which features an endearingly goofy score by Sébastien Erms, is a purely French film from start to finish, a lovely little slice of life that is one of Rohmer’s unsung masterworks. The Tree, the Mayor and the Mediatheque is screening February 17 at 4:00 & 7:30 in the French Institute Alliance Française’s CinéSalon series “Eccentrics of French Comedy” series; the 7:30 show will be introduced by film critic Nicholas Elliott, and both shows will be followed by a wine reception. The series concludes February 24 with Luc Moullet’s The Land of Madness, introduced by theater director Pavol Liska.