The Review/Short Read/Interview/

One To Watch: Perceval le Gallois

An eclectic mix of theatre, octosyllabic dialogue, 1970s haircuts, medieval music, and colourful castles

Jul 29, 2016

Eric Rohmer’s second literary adaptation takes us back to Arthurian times. Based on the 12th century Arthurian poem by Chrétien de Troyes, Perceval: The Story of the Grail, the film is an eclectic mix of theater, octosyllabic dialogue, 1970s haircuts, medieval music and colorful castles. The story begins with our hero, a young and sheltered Perceval, as he finds out that knights exist. With nothing but a horse and his mother’s advice to always be chivalrous and humble, Perceval sets out on a journey to discover what really makes a great man. Even in this medieval adaptation — and in true Rohmer fashion —morality, faith and irony are always at the center of the story.

The film was shot entirely in a studio using bright artificial lights, on a small stage and with plastic props that would have seemed comical had they been done by a less experienced hand. But production designer Jean-Pierre Kohut-Svelko drew inspiration from the composition of medieval paintings and sculptures, blessing Rohmer’s film with a dreamy and visually striking quality.

It’s one of the most unique Rohmer films out there. There’s no realism in the performances or in the structure of the script (Rohmer had the ancient text translated into modern French, then back into the octosyllabic structure in order to achieve the final structure of the dialogue). The characters often refer to themselves in the third-person (resulting in some unintentional deadpan comedy), and there’s a surreal non-linear narrative halfway through the story that could confuse those who don’t stick around until the end.

This film is part of Eric Rohmer retrospective, Dangerous Liaisons: The Films of Eric Rohmer, dedicated to the French New Wave master. The screenings, featuring all of Rohmer’s most dazzling and celebrated films, will run until August 28.