NEW YORK — MOVIES by French director Eric Rohmer often arrive in the United States during the summer. It always feels right to see these films in the warm-weather season, because Rohmer's stories have a summery kind of atmosphere. One of the best was actually called ``Summer'' when it opened on American screens, even though its original French title was ``The Green Ray.'' Rohmer hasn't always been so mellow. He first earned attention from American moviegoers with ``My Night at Maud's,'' a highly intellectual film with characters who spent most of their time discussing philosophical questions - and that was part of a whole series called ``Six Moral Tales,'' about people faced with ethical problems. In recent years, though, Rohmer has been lightening up. His most recent series, ``Comedies and Proverbs,'' was full of smart characters, yet it often had a winsome and amusing touch.
The new Rohmer romance, ``Four Adventures of Reinette and Mirabelle,'' may be the lightest movie of his career. Although it's not as memorable as his best films, it has a lot of charm and a steady current of the intelligence that's his most important trademark.
The story is a kind of ``city mouse and country mouse'' fable. Mirabelle is a student in Paris. She's young and inexperienced, but she thinks she knows the secret of life: that you have to bend your principles to get along. Reinette is from the country. She arrives in the big city to study art, and she's also convinced that she understands how to prosper in the world - by knowing exactly what's right and what's wrong, and never bending an inch.
Their adventures are little ones, on the surface: They meet up with a rude waiter, a beggar, and other city characters, and have to decide how they'll respond to unfamiliar situations. The movie's interest lies in what's going on beneath the surface - as both young women learn there's more to life, and to being a responsible adult, than they ever suspected. We watch them struggle through their small dilemmas, and we watch their friendship grow deeper and more complex.
Rohmer began his filmmaking career as a member of the French ``new wave'' in the early 1960s. Although he was the most openly intellectual of these filmmakers, he has always had a special affection for young people, and a special talent for exploring their little problems of love and loneliness. ``Four Adventures of Reinette and Mirabelle'' is one of his minor films. But as a summertime entertainment, it's as likable as can be.