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Callahan | Perceval le Gallois: Eric Rohmer's Vision of the Middle Ages Leslie Abend Callahan University of Pennsylvania Perceval le Gallois: Eric Rohmer's Vision of the Middle Ages The 1978 release of Perceval ¡e Gallois, Eric Rohmer's fantasy of and about the Middle Ages, was met with equal measures of praise and derision. Critical reaction was, I would suggest, largely a function of the expectations with which the spectator entered the screening room. Such critical baggage may have included an attachment to or vested interest in Chrétien de Troyes's twelfth-century romance Le conte du graal, the text on which the film was based,1 and/or the viewer's conception of where the film "fit into" the rest of Rohmer's cinematic oeuvre.2 So, generally speaking, the reaction had little to do with the either the merits or the shortcomings of the film itself.3 The film's perceived failure to conform to a faithful reconstruction of the text on the one hand, and the criticism of Rohmer's departure from the naturalistic representational style seen in his better-known films, on the other, leave us in our own "gaste forest," a critical wasteland located between fiction and history and between the Medieval and the Modern. Rather than viewing this critical space as barren territory, it is perhaps more productive to consider the filmic work as comprised of avenues that intersect, located in a domain where the dominant metaphor is the vision or dream. The first line, or avenue, of such an intersection wouldIn Perceval, Chretien's use of estoire as narrative generbe that connecting end points of estoire as history, andally means tale or story, but the term can also refer to the estoire as narrative. The second axis, that of the Medievalsource of the anterior narrative tradition from and the Modern will be discussed below. The categorywhich the author fashions his "version," as we see in the estoire/history contains both the mythical, distant historyromance's prologue, in which Chrétien dedicates the work from which the tale is purportedly taken and the momentto Philip ofAlsace: within which Chrétien worked. In Chretien's romances, His-Donc avmbien sauve sa peinne torywith a capital H is, according toJean-Charles Payen, "atCrestïens, qui antant et peinne once that ofa fabulous past, and that time within which hisa rimoier le meillor conte> own writing ofthe textoccurs ..." Historywith a small h isparle comandementle cont6) the time in which the narrative action plays itself out. It represents "a briefperiod oftime, that ofan initiation where1ui soit contez an cort real: the hero discovers a newdimension within himself."4 Payen'sce esth contes del §raa1' distinction is operative both within Chretien's romance anddon h cuens h baille le livre' in Rohmer's translation of that work to the screen.s'orroiz comant Ü s'an delivre·5 46 I Film & History The Medieval Period in Film | Special In-Depth Section [Therefore Christian's labor will not be wasted when, at the count's command, he endeavors and strives to put into rhyme the finest tale that may be told at a royal court. This is the Story of the Grail, from the book the count gave him. Hear how he performs his task.]6 In Romancing the Past: The Rise ofVernacular Prose Historiographyin Thirteenth-Century France, Gabrielle M. Spiegel argues that Chretien's recourse to the authority of history is nothing but an authorial convention, that it was precisely with that author's works that "medieval romance came finally to acknowledge its status as a self-created fabrication, whose aim was to present an agreeable fiction ... for the literary entertainment of the reader."7 Nevertheless , Chrétien refers time and again to a source tale, real or imagined, as in the episode of the encounter of the as-yet-unnamed Welsh Valet with the demoiselle of the tent: ... que Ii vaslez an un randon la beisa, volsist ele ou non, .xx. foiz, si com li contes dit...8 [Whether she wished or not, the youth, according to the tale, kissed her twenty times without pause.]9 Chrétien again refers to a source tale in...