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ROMANCE OF ASTREA AND CELEDON, 2007
Starring Andy Gillet, Stéphanie Crayencour, Cécile Cassel, Véronique Reymond, Serge Renko
In a mystical France from the imagination of a seventeenth century writer, where the Romans are pagan and the Gauls are civilized, a community of shepherds lives on the banks of the Lignon in the province of Forez. A pure and devoted love is shared by Celadon and Astrea, though her parents disapprove. After a misunderstanding, Astrea disowns Celadon and he, in turn, tries to drown himself in the river. He fails and is washed upstream, where the nymphs of Galatea keep him prisoner.
In 1607, Honoré d’Urfé wrote Astrée and Celadon, an early example of a novel published in several extremely rambling and detailed serializations over many years. In it, he reimagined ancient France—the Gaul of the Celts and the Romans—as a seventeenth century woodland paradise full of nymphs, druids, and shepherds. He was extremely influential in his visions and his technique, his style of novels being in vogue for many years after. The passions of his protagonists are extreme in every sense, and from this Eric Rohmer’s film reflects a peculiar vision, one you are unlikely to ever see in the cinema again.
Story in The Romance of Astrea and Celadon is not of utmost importance; atmosphere and scenery are. In the unspoilt woodland, the beautiful shepherdess Astrea (Stéphanie Crayencour) is in love with the equally beautiful shepherd Celadon (Andy Gillet). Though they are devoted to each other, at the feast with the other shepherds, they have to pretend not to be partial to each other, due to animosity between their parents. Astrea finds Celadon’s performance a bit too convincing and accuses him of infidelity. She sends him from her sight and demands they never meet again.
Distraught, he decides to throw himself into the river. Too late, Astrea catches up with him and cannot find him. It is understood that he has been swept away with the current and drowned. Lycidas, Celadon’s brother, berates Astrea for causing her lover’s death and for showing so little emotion at it. Gradually she realizes that Celadon never was unfaithful to her, and she rebukes herself for her jealousy. Lycidas and his love Phillis have a debate with an inconstant shepherd Hylas about the virtues of pure love versus the pleasures of many romances. Upriver, Celadon is not dead. He is discovered by the queenly nymph Galatea (Véronique Reymond) and her handmaidens. They rescue him and take him back to their castle. Galatea realizes she wants the gorgeous young shepherd for her own. The wise handmaiden Léonide (Cécile Cassel) cautions Galatea about overstepping her bounds; she discovers the image of Astrea that Celadon keeps in a pouch around his neck. Galatea is determined to have Celadon, even at the price of keeping him prisoner. Celadon begs Léonide to ask Galatea for his freedom, but the proud nymph tries to emotionally blackmail Celadon, as his savior, into giving in to her love.
Finally Léonide smuggles Celadon out of the castle dressed as a woman and returns him to the bank where she found him. To her surprise, he doesn’t intend to return to Astrea and his village. He wants to mope around in the woods pining for his love. He says that Astrea ordered him out of her sight and that he cannot break his promise, despite Léonide’s logical advice that Astrea would be so glad to find him alive, she would immediately take him back. Celadon spends the next few weeks living in a hut in the forest, visited by Léonide and eventually her uncle, the druid Adamas (Serge Renko).
The druid likes Celadon, despite all his self-pity, because he reminds him of his daughter Alexia who lives far away. Adamas takes Celadon to an altar in the woods and explains that the Celtic gods are actually all one being (a Christian explanation of the Trinity that d’Urfé has worked in for the benefit his seventeenth century readers). Celadon is urged to create a bower to the goddess Astrea, whose namesake his beloved shares.The shepherds and shepherdesses make a pilgrimage through the woods toward Adamas’ castle, where they have been invited for a feast. Celadon has been encouraged to live there as well. On the way to the castle, the shepherds find the bower that Celadon raised to Astrea and find her image there; she is perplexed but Phillis sees this as a good indication that Celadon is actually alive. The shepherds also get lost and are forced to spend their night in the woods. In his wanderings Celadon comes upon Astrea sleeping and goes to kiss her, just before she wakes up, sure she saw the ghost of Celadon.
When the group finally reaches the castle, they find that Adamas’ daughter Alexia the druidess is there to meet them. “Alexia” is actually Celadon in disguise, with Adamas and Léonide’s collusion. Amazingly the deception is carried off, and Celadon and Astrea become bosom buddies. However, when all the “girls” have to spend the night together in the same room, how far will Celadon be able to carry his ruse? Will he and Astrea ever happily reunite?
The Romance of Astrea and Celadon is a strange but visually arresting film. The fact that the filmmakers have chosen to represent ancient Gaul as the seventeenth century French saw it gives it a sense of weird disconnect, making it a fairy story in a realm that never existed. The morals and values of the seventeenth century are also displaced onto this picturesque realm, making chivalrous, pure love the height of fashion. There is the undeniable presence of cross-dressing, which Celadon has perpetrated at least three times, which is taken completely seriously by the cast, despite the fact that the actor is very very clearly male.
To recommend it, the film boasts fabulous locations, having been shot in relevantly bucolic landscapes and also in the kind of castles the seventeenth century readers would have pictured. All the shepherdesses and nymphs are sensual in their diaphanous costumes though the romance of the two protagonists never goes beyond the realm of PG. One suspects very little cutting or adapting from the original text has been done by Rohmer; instead, these anachronistic characters are allowed to roam freely over the landscape, in a visually experimental paradise.
ROMANCE OF ASTREA AND CELEDON