The Tree, the Mayor and the Mediatheque (1993)
Directed and written by Eric Rohmer
Produced by Françoise Etchegaray
Starring Pascal Greggory, Clémentine Amouroux, Fabrice Luchini, Arielle Dombasle, Galaxie Barbouth, François-Marie Banier, Michel Jaouen, Jessica Schwing
What for a Costa-Gavras or Loach might seem paradoxical was for Rohmer congruent: his most political feature’s also among his lightest, contextualized in seven parts of as many crucial consiliences from which its plot proceeds. To promote education, entertainment and his career after a loss in a regional election, a benign socialist mayor (Greggory) more familiar with the lush, beauteous botany of his rural town than his own constituents designs to fund the construction of a cultural and sporting complex incorporating a library, theater, pool, record retail outlet and expo center. His unexpected obstacles include a grand old white willow scheduled for extirpation upon the projected building site, and its most clamant champion, a feisty, irate, emphatically apolitical schoolteacher (Luchini) intractably opposed to this scheme. A penetrative magazine editor (Amouroux) dubious of both men interviews all of the town’s involved and affected parties, and finds herself stymied less by corruption than limits of pagination and journalistic virtue. Equally unimpressed, the mayor’s contentious (though hardly eristical) girlfriend (Dombasle), a Parisian novelist dedicated to urbanism, courts companionable contestation with everyone, especially her swain. As stalwart an environmentalist as a Catholic, Rohmer cunningly conferred to these characters his own convictions or their antitheses: Luchini’s preceptor elaborates the veteran cineaste’s antipathy for industrial encroachment, the environmental taint generated by automotive proliferation and the sprawl of freeways, and logistical inefficiencies engendered by the enforcement of global trade, while Greggory’s mayor disdains Parisian centralization of culture and aspires to revitalize his pastoral home. Ironically, both men suspect one another of base motives — the excitable educator colligates his grievances into erroneous speculation that urbanist’s ambitions incite his phytolophilic mayor, who in turn surmises the teacher may be a pawn of a disgruntled green faction — without imagining the actuality of their kindred sensibilities. Bucolics of Saint-Juire-Champgillon such as farmers, a shopkeeper and a toller interviewed by Amouroux in character respond with a charming provincial candor that fortifies this production’s verisimilitude and furnishes insight into the lifestyle and ethos of the French rustic. As always, Rohmer inspires in his cast exceeding performance in the enactment of his script’s attic monologues and exchanges. Beyond matters aesthetic, architectural or ecological expounded throughout, the laudable subtexts that validate Rohmer’s political maturity are those that doomed this picture to international obscurity, affirming that even local politics present more problems than solutions, and that neither national nor individual character can be resolved with an inhuman ideological dichotomy.

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