[Eric Rohmer's Perceval is] unique in its virtual elimination of an intermediary, modern sensibility between the artist and the myth. Rohmer is so attuned to the virtues this story celebrates and the spirit it embodies that he transforms a potential curiosity into a movie at once immediate and vital. His oneness with this material erases a distance of eight centuries….
The result of Rohmer's labor of love is a film that evokes the spirit of the Middle Ages in every frame. Perceval unfolds like a Book of Hours miraculously sprung to life. The physical movements and positioning of the actors even resemble those still life figures from engravings of the period, with their tilting bodies, inclined heads, and arms and hands extended in gestures of supplication….
Rohmer has created a glorious paradox—a highly stylized theater piece which is conceived totally in cinematic terms. The self-imposed restrictions have actually liberated his imagination in a way that expands the potential of the medium. Like such great Renoir "theater" films as The Golden Coach, and French Cancan, Perceval plays with the contradictory impulses of theater and cinema. Its gleeful juggling of their similarities and differences modifies any preconceived definitions of either.
This movie revels in its theatricality. Nearly half the verse is sung to music that Guy Robert has culled from themes of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries…. Since the clarity of the text takes precedence over any inflection or vocal variation, the actors do not even attempt representational characterizations. The speaking of the rhymes is closer to an interpretative reading than a theatrical performance. (p. 9)
Rohmer's fidelity to the text has not smothered his own personal voice as a filmmaker. Like most of his films, Perceval is a contemplation of such outmoded concepts as faith, honour, love and moral rectitude. And like [the protagonists of My Night at Maud's, Claire's Knee, and Chloë in the Afternoon, the central character in] Perceval moves gradually from an initially narrow, selfish view of himself in relation to the world, toward a point approaching a measure of enlightenment. In the earlier Moral Tales, this interior journey is developed through those Platonic dialogues unique to Rohmer. In this film, however, Perceval's moral and spiritual progression is charted through his picaresque encounters….
Perceval is shot through with the passion and moral commitment Rohmer brought to My Night at Maud's and Claire's Knee . This film trembles with a religious faith so awesome, so absolute, that even the staunchest atheist might pause. Rohmer also believes deeply in...
(The entire section is 629 words.)