screened August 12, 2008 on Fox Lorber DVD in New York, NY
A deceptively modest triumph in guileful storytelling and poker-faced acting, Claude Sautet’s late career hit is unabashedly bourgeois to the bone, concerned with little more than the romantic miscues between a trio of classical violin professionals (one plays them, one fixes them, one works with one and sleeps with the other) in between rigorous rehearsals and cozy cafe catchup sessions with friends. Thoroughly embedded within this milieu, Sautet presents a scenario that thoroughly vivisects this subculture from within, exposing the contending values and asumptions that make its characters tick, the most dominant – and destructive – being middle-class politeness. When Camille (Emmanuelle Beart) falls for Stephane (Daniel Auteuil), the friend and partner of her lover Maxime (Andre Dussolier), all Maxime can do is step aside and let love take its course (after all, he dumped his wife for Camille). Camille, a young ingenue violinist, sees in Stephane one with a kindred passion for the art, as his fine tuning of her instrument unleashes in her a higher level of virtuosity. After initial intimations of romantic interest on Stephane’s part, he abruptly spurns her; his flat answer, echoed by the what-you-see-is-what-you-get camerawork, is a renunciation of intimacy so blunt that it leaves the viewer scouring Auteuil’s expressions for the slightest hint of self-betrayal. Auteuil’s performance, in his quizzical reactions (or non-reactions) to the experiences and expressions of love and pain presented to him by others, may feel one-note at first, but it goes considerably well beyond the gimmicky blankness of Peter Sellers in Being There or Dustin Hoffman in Rain Man, or the sentimentality of Tom Hanks in Forrest Gump. Unlike all of them, Stephane straddles a gaping paradox between social sophistication (affably holding his own at dinner table conversations and cafe chitchat) and the most contemptuous, self-alienating sociopathy. The most critical distinction of Stephane over other movie simpletons is his capacity for machination: Sautet’s script lays several clues as to his motivations in disrupting the affair between Maxme and Camille, but leaves him as much as an enigma as when it found him. But perhaps none of this would matter, neither the script nor Auteuil, if it weren’t for Beart’s youthful conveyance of Camille’s passion and insecurity. It is through her heartbreak that we learn what’s at stake in the movie: she must discover her own rules for navigating through the bourgeois world of art and love, or else succumb to a comfortable nihilism that, as embodied by Stephane, threatens to occupy its center.
want to go deeper?
The following ballots were counted towards the film’s placement on They Shoot Pictures Top 1000 Films:
Bill Craske – Senses of Cinema (2001)
Claire Binns – Time Out (1995)
Hulya Ucansu – Sight & Sound (2002)
Phillip Lopate – Village Voice: Best Films of the 1990′s (1999)
Village Voice – The Best 100 Films of the 1990′s (1999)
Wes Anderson Film Comment – Ten Best of the 1990′s 2000)
On the surface, an unassuming, low-key study of a ménage à trois that never really takes off physically; dig deeper, however, and it’s filled with dark, disturbing emotions and unsettling power-games. Stéphane (Auteuil) and Maxime (Dussollier) are old friends and partners in a violin-making business; Camille (Béart) is a concert violinist and Maxime’s lover, who comes increasingly to dominate the taciturn Stéphane’s thoughts. As time passes, while she seems to respond to his apparent interest in her, he remains reticent: out of shyness, loyalty to Maxime, or something more perverse? What distinguishes the film is that Sautet and his excellent trio of leads manage to convey complex emotional nuances without resorting to explicit dialogue, plot contrivance, or hackneyed visual metaphor. Everything is underplayed, made manifest through subtle glances, brief but pregnant silences, the rhythms of the editing, the moody qualities of the lighting, and the occasional bursts of Ravel played by Camille. There’s not an ounce of fat on this deceptively quiet movie, which at times achieves a real sense of pain and confusion.
- Geoff Andrew, Time Out
One of the key writer-directors associated with the upper-middle-class and middle-aged French, Claude Sautet has never had a strong impact in this country. This feature, A Heart in Winter, his 13th, gives a fair sense of his craft and his limitations; I find it ably made but a bit on the dull side. Loosely inspired by “The Princess Mary” story in Lermontov’s novel A Hero of Our Time, the plot concerns two violin makers played by Daniel Auteuil (Jean de Florette) and Andre Dussollier (Melo, Le beau mariage), who work as partners, and the changes wrought in their lives by a young violinist (La belle noiseuse‘s Emmanuelle Beart) preparing to record a Ravel trio. Other significant characters include a music teacher (Maurice Garrel) and the older woman (Brigitte Catillon) the violinist lives with. A major thematic interest is the wintry heart (lack of feeling) of Auteuil’s character, and what makes the presentation of this theme relatively novel for American tastes is the lack of psychology underlying it. The performances are all quite good, Beart’s in particular, but whether one really cares about these characters is another matter.
- Jonathan Rosenbaum, The Chicago Reader
Any story focused on a lonely, loveless character risks allowing its viewer or reader to draw back, convinced that he or she will never share the protagonist’s pitiable state. Hence Mr. Sautet’s willfully aloof direction of “Un Coeur en Hiver” comes as an interesting surprise. This director, best known here for films he made 20 years ago (“Cesar and Rosalie” in 1972, “Vincent, Paul, Francois and the Others” in 1973) makes no effort to wring pathos out of Stephane’s plight. Nor does he encourage Mr. Auteuil to reduce the character to two dimensions. “Un Coeur en Hiver” accepts Stephane’s remoteness as something clinical, and adopts a Rohmeresque detachment in observing and analyzing its consequences…There is both fascination and frustration in watching this odd story unfold, since the director avoids commenting overtly on his characters’ inner lives. Working from a screenplay by Yves Ulmann, Jacques Fieschi and Jerome Tonnerre, Mr. Sautet makes this story powerfully vivid without often penetrating its smooth veneer. The film’s settings, invitingly evoked, are used as landmarks in the lives of the principals: the atelier, several bistros, recording studios and concert halls and a large, handsome house in the country. Yet Stephane can travel this landscape quietly and inexpressively, except in the remarkable moment when he describes his isolation. “You’re talking about feelings which don’t exist for me,” he tells the ashamed and astonished Camille. “I can’t feel them. I don’t love you.”
“Un Coeur en Hiver,” the winner of Cesar awards last year for Mr. Sautet’s direction and Mr. Dussollier’s polished performance as Maxime, offers satisfactions that go beyond the scope of its strange story. Within its atmosphere of intelligence and precision, the film makes deft use of the Ravel sonatas and trio that are actually performed by Jean-Jacques Kantorow, but feigned captivatingly by Ms. Beart. This actress is an esthetic delight in her own right, and she gives a carefully measured performance that suits her role. Mr. Auteuil, prim and watchful, conveys the delicately calibrated changes in Stephane’s nature as fully as the material allows him to. And he manages the remarkable feat of commanding attention even when Ms. Beart is at center stage.
- Janet Maslin, The New York Times, June 4 1993
Emmanuelle Beart in Bed:
“Un Coeur en Hiver,” directed by Claude Sautet, has the intensity and delicacy of a great short story. It reveals how superficial most movie romances are – because they make love too simple, and too easy a solution. The heart has needs that love does not understand, and for Stephane, perhaps the comfort of his routine and the consolations of his craft are more valuable than the risks of intimacy.Daniel Auteuil plays Stephane. He has an inward-looking face, a repose; he tells us more about himself in the narration than he tells anyone in the film. Camille is Emmanuelle Beart, beautiful, yes, but required here to be a convincing violinist and a theorist about music. She is given a difficult role, and avoids its hazards brilliantly. She must throw over one man and be rejected by another (many of the crucial scenes are in public), and yet seem not foolish but simply unlucky. She must maintain her dignity, or the film will become the story of a woman scorned, which it is not. It is the story of a man not scorned – of how Stephane psychologically cannot take the woman from Maxime.
As a general rule, the characters in French films seem more grownup than those in American films. They do not consider love and sex as a teenager might, as the prizes in life. Instead, they are challenges and responsibilities, and not always to be embraced. Most movie romances begin with two people who should be in love, and end, after great difficulties, with those two people in love. Here is a movie about two people who should not be in love, and how they deal with that discovery.
- Roger Ebert, The Chicago Sun-Times, July 2 1993
American movies are all talk, no listen. Jabber jabber, feint feint — conversation is combat, a schoolyard dissing contest, a slightly more sophisticated version of “Your mother!” “No, yours!” In real life, and in French movies, people pretend to get along when they talk. They keep things light, genial, talking around the issues that burn them up inside. Some love affairs never begin because people are afraid to reveal what they feel; “I love you” is so hard to say. Some marriages can last a lifetime on the tacit agreement that hostilities will go unexpressed. The static is in the silences.
By the chatty U.S. criterion, Un Coeur en Hiver (A Heart in Winter) is no great shakes. Even by French standards, Claude Sautet’s drama tends to dither a bit. Yet the film displays a wonderful attention to the spaces between what people say and what they mean. Because the business of its main characters is making music, we spend many rewarding moments watching people listen. And then, because this is a kind of love story, we watch a woman watching a man. Here, the actors are the audience; they do what we do.
Auteuil’s performance is heroically blank. He doesn’t explain Stephane’s emotional numbness, nor does he editorialize against it. He allows his lure for dear Camille to remain a mystery, like so many romantic attractions. But then Beart (Manon in Manon of the Spring, the painter’s model in La Belle Noiseuse) is an actress of such extraordinary beauty that any time she falls in movie love she seems like a goddess slumming. Her radiant face is , therapeutic. A glance from her should thaw the frostiest heart.
- Richard Corliss, Time, June 21, 1993
Claude Sautet’s subtly haunting Un coeur en hiver is a film about the deepest human feelings and fears, especially fear of intimacy and fear of rejection.
At the opening of Un coeur en hiver, it is observed that violins are the “most precious possessions” of violinists. This declaration has profound meaning as the scenario evolves. If the instruments are such, they are so because they are safe. They have no free will. They will never abandon their owners. If they fall apart from usage, they always can be repaired. They are dependable and reliable—unlike human beings…
Emotions are complex, inexact, ever-changing; in human relationships, feelings are dependent upon the responses of others. Stéphane is keenly aware of all this, and it is for this reason that, despite his feelings, he distances himself from Camille. He is afraid of allowing himself to love her, because of the pain he may be forced to endure. As a result, he presents himself as passionless, which even plays itself out during an intellectual discussion in which he professes to have no opinion on the subject at hand.
The relationships in Un coeur en hiver are not only between lovers. Camille has for many years roomed with Régine, her manager. As Camille prepares to move in with Maxime, Régine must adjust to a new and more solitary lifestyle, a fact which she acts out by becoming angry at Camille. Later on, Stéphane tells Camille that he considers Maxime a business partner, and not a friend. Camille retorts that Stéphane’s attitude is “just a pose.” “It’s strange how you enjoy giving yourself a bad image,” she adds. Of course, Stéphane is not cold-hearted. He and Maxime are in fact friends, and he truly values their relationship. What Camille does not understand is that Stéphane simply is fearful of facing his emotions.
In the end, Stéphane is a lonely figure, one who is “unconnected with life.” His solitude shelters him, keeping him protected from the hurt feelings that are the offshoots of human connection. Is he better or worse off? To answer this question, Sautet points out that, while we all are solitary souls, if we do not choose to be brave and risk connecting emotionally with others, our lives can never be complete.
—Rob Edelman, Film Reference.com
From the first moments of Un Coeur en hiver we are engulfed by the long takes, the stillness of his images and the whisperings of his characters. It is as though we are bound by some secret affinity to the lives of these characters.
In an interview Sautet revealed that this film was more based on his memories of the story, rather than an adaptation of Lermontov’s short story “Princess Mary,” from his book A Hero of Our Time. This aspect, coupled with Jean-Jacques Kantorow’s recording of Ravel’s sonatas (a gift from his son, which he was listening to at the time), allowed Sautet’s film to develop deeper and richer dimensions in the three main characters. The novelistic quality in the detailed study of his characters, who reveal themselves slowly but precisely, through conversations, gestures, looks, are all Sautet’s doing. He and writer Jacques Fieschi worked on the first third of the dialogue for no less than four months in order to pare it down to perfection.
But there remains an opacity to his characters: we learn of Stéphane’s (Daniel Auteuil) thoughts about winning over Camille (Emmanuelle Béart) through snippets of his conversations with Hélène (Elisabeth Bourgine), but his gestures and behaviour belie his stated intentions (standing silently in the dark watching his old professor argue with his wife). We do not know whether we should believe in what he says, or even if he himself understands his own actions.
The yearning, or suffering, of Stéphane’s heart in Un Coeur en hiver is revealed to us through Sautet’s close-ups of Auteuil. His choice of a sombre palette of winter tones, grey-brown and desolate, rather than steely blue tones, and the grace and melancholy of Ravel’s music all infuse the film with a kind of warmth which seem to suggest that Stéphane’s heart is capable of love. Most of the time his unyielding exterior is echoed in his gestures, although if one studies his behaviour closely, one will find that these are also gestures which give him away: his immobility in the presence of Camille and his silent repose beside Maxime may suggest a steely heart, but he is ultimately betrayed by those burning eyes of his when they are fixed on Camille, and by his patience and fine ear for Maxime and music. And, finally, an act of kindness he kills his sick old professor. Though morally wrong, Sautet believes that this is the only “compassionate and loving thing he does” in the film, because his character is “incapable of any positive action in a conformist sense.” Sautet goes on to say that although it is impossible to know how deep Stéphane’s love is for Maxime, one is able to get a glimpse of this love through his look of childlike bewilderment when Maxime comes to visit him in his new studio and from the gravity of these short words Stéphane says to Camille at the end of the film: “You’ve missed me, and I’ve lost Maxime.”
– Janice Tong, Senses of Cinema Great Directors Biography
Claude Sautet often explored the unresolved nature of triangular relationships. In Les Choses de la Vie (1969), Pierre’s (Michel Piccoli) accident becomes a conduit for re-evaluating his relationships with his wife and his mistress. In Nelly and Monsieur Arnaud (1995), personal inhibition and fear of rejection prevent Nelly (Emmanuelle Béart) and Arnaud (Michel Serrault) from pursuing their tacit romantic connection, despite Nelly’s failing marriage. They exchange knowing glances and carefully selected words, but inevitably, never reveal what is in their hearts. These films depict the process of discovery, as the characters find themselves captivated by the novelty of falling in love at the expense of an emotional investment in maintaining their current relationships. In Un Coeur en hiver, the “incompleteness” lies solely within Stephane’s ambivalent behavior, and it is his underlying ambiguity that creates Camille’s perceived dilemma.
The selection of the Ravel Sonatas and the Trio effectively captures the essence of the triangular relationship in Un Coeur en hiver. With equal measures of subdued longing and passionate intensity, the soundtrack embodies Stephane and Camille’s increasing attraction and emotional vacillation. When Camille delivers her finest performance at the recording studio, the moment proves to be a turning point, not only in her professional career, but in her personal life as well. In essence, her performance becomes a validation of her connection with Stephane. Stephane has perfected the precious instrument entrusted to him, and now Camille has realized its exquisite potential. The passionate music becomes a recorded testament of Stephane and Camille’s creative union – an intimate expression of their unrealized bond.
Un Coeur en hiver is a sublimely sensual and provocative film on the complexity of human relationships. Through the technically brilliant, but emotionally flawed Stephane, Sautet presents a fascinating character examination of the subtle, yet profoundly relevant dichotomy between mechanical creation and art, polite conversation and intimacy, attraction and love. In chronicling the lives of imperfect people, Claude Sautet compassionately captures the quiet longing of the soul, and in the process, composes a subtle and graceful contemporary ballad of the human heart.
The Love Triangle Begins:
This is my favorite movie. It feels very personal to me, as if it were somehow my film. It unites my favorite music and my favorite actress with a gifted, sensitive director. It’s about a violinist (Emmanuelle Beart), and a violin maker (Daniel Auteuil), who meet over the recording of two sonatas by Ravel. As we watch them speaking together, and watching each other, we feel the space between them becoming increasingly more charged. The film feels smooth and perhaps a bit muted, but so much runs under its surface that it concludes with surprising power. Recently I heard that this film is loosely based on a Russian novel, Lermontov’s A Hero of Our Time. I hadn’t noticed the similarities — the novel is quite different! — but it adds an interesting perspective from which to view the film.
Veteran French filmmaker Claude Sautet (of the Oscar-winning César et Rosalie) has made a powerful film here expressed in the smallest of gestures, just as one might tune the strings of a violin ever-so-slightly to achieve perfection. Sautet indeed employs such a sonorous motif in this story, in which violins always seem to be playing and suggesting that the principal characters look at life as they do music: something to be tinkered with and manipulated for effect.
–Tom Keogh, Amazon.com
Here is an example of the script’s fine dialogue (and I should mention here that the characters of Un Coeur en Hiver are uniformly of the French petite bourgeoisie). There is a gently ironic scene near the film’s beginning in which a smart but pompous dinner guest, a writer, holds forth on his theory of popular culture versus true art. When he is lightly challenged by another guest, he responds, “So, I’m a reactionary?” “No,” says a wiser, older fellow “you speak for an anxious elite in a world of democratic excess.” The writer responds with, “I’ve fought elitism all my life. There’s too much bleating today.” But then he continues by saying, “Museum’s today are full of clueless clodhoppers.” Is this kind of wit and dissection of class to be found anywhere in today’s American cinema? This snippet of the scene, for all its interest, is mere filigree to the core of the story’s concerns. Yet as the scene continues, the three main characters are drawn into the conversation in a way that illuminates their relations to one another up to this point in the film. The small dinner scene is a good example of the intelligence and mature vision that suffuses the whole movie.
Stephane’s seduction is subtle, passive, and ambiguous. Does he have a genuine affection for Camille, or is he subconsciously manipulating her as if she were one of his specialized violin tools, a tool to repair his apparent ennui and emotional coldness? I have to write “apparent” because he is not a sociopath or obvious emotional cripple. Perhaps he is unable or unwilling to renounce his solitary nature because his work and love of music is more important to him than the distractions of human fellowship. For that matter, the movie seems to ask if there is anything wrong with his hermetic existence. Are “true love” and carnal fulfillment, as most romantic American cinema would have it, the only goals worth seeking, or is Stephane’s violin-making craftsmanship an equally worthy life pursuit? The director does not deliver us pat answers. The viewer’s personal inclinations will likely determine his or her conclusions.
- Russell Engebretson, DVD Verdict
Stephane rejects Camille’s love:
An open-ended bout with a tragic love triangle, Un Coeur en hiver uses subtle and convincing performances to project its emotional pain. Stephane (Daniel Auteuil) and Maxime (Andre Dussollier) are partners in a Parisian violin repair and sales operation, successfully catering to a wide range of famous musicians. Maxime handles the customer relations and new clients (he’s a real charmer and smooth talker) while Stephane is the master surgeon, delicately working on the innards of a cherished instrument. This arrangement suits both perfectly, although it doesn’t stretch as far as friendship (although Maxime would like to think that it does).
A film which approaches the subject of love in a decidedly adult fashion is unusual in itself, but one which embraces the contradictions inherent in Stephane is special. For he is the owner of the title organ, a man who typifies the characteristic of reticence. Outwardly he is an enigma, avoiding all emotional entanglements and reliance on others. Inwardly it’s impossible to comment, since it’s entirely plausible that even Stephane doesn’t know why he acts in certain ways. Acting the martyr he claims not to have led Camille on, when she starts to react to his presence, yet this is entirely false – he just seems to be playing games. When Camille falls into obsession, as Stephane cuts off from her, his behaviour is atrociously cruel. Yet how can one feel anger for Stephane, since he somehow suffers the most of all – a victim of his own introversion.
Damian Cannon, Movie Reviews UK
Camille is no less a complicated character, but her feelings are simpler to read. She hides nothing, and when she recognizes that she loves Stephane, there is no doubt in her mind — or ours — of the truth. Especially noteworthy is the manner in which Camille’s sudden, intense passion for Stephane intertwines, and at times conflicts with, her lifelong love of music. The stunning Emmanuelle Beart gives an astonishing, unaffected performance. Emotion is often displayed in the most subtle gestures, expressions, and vocal inflections. Before beginning production of Un Coeur en Hiver, Beart had never played the violin. After the film’s release in France, director Claude Sautet claimed that she “fooled everyone” with her “perfect motions” (violinist Jean-Jacques Kantorow does the actual playing). Not only are her hand movements proficient, but the look of rapture on her face as she loses herself in the music of Ravel is an example of how accomplished Beart’s acting style is.
Un Coeur en Hiver is yet another case of real-life chemistry translating well to the screen. At the time when this picture was before the cameras, Beart and Auteuil were companions away from their acting, and the spark of this intensity, even unfulfilled as it is here, is too obvious to miss.
At first sight “A Heart in Winter” is the story of a love triangle, a variation of the basic and often filmed competition of two men for the affection of a woman. At second sight, however, the film is a treatment of the philosophical question “What is love?” Unlike typical Hollywood movies, “A Heart in Winter” is not based on such popular premises as: love is the answer to everything, sexual consummation is the ultimate closure, or monogamous commitments are tantamount to happy endings. Sautet’s film subverts any such clichés by wondering about the nature of what people call “love,” by showing, for example, how much more weighty a passing glance can be than wild cohabitation, or by exploring the possibility that a quiet, solitary life can be as rich and deep as one that is crowded by emotional demands and relentless instinctual pressures.
Any interpretation of the film will run into the following question: Is Stephane’s state of mind and way of life the expression of some shortcoming or even pathology, or does his conduct represent a plausible ideal–a way of life for which even philosophical reasons can be offered? Does Sautet tell the story of a sad failure, or does he give us the outline of a kind of life that is attractive in an unusual way?
Under the influence of Hollywood movies and pop psychology, most viewers will be inclined to look at Stephane as a person who suffers from “psychological problems.” Instead of pursuing the woman to whom he is attracted, and instead of responding to her reciprocating interest in the way any “normal” men would, Stephane does not act on his initial impulses, and even withdraws when Camille shows a keen interest in him. It seems obvious that he is “inhibited” in some way, that the “healthy” or “natural” expression of his feelings is blocked by some inner obstacles. The reasons why he does not follow up on his initial advance are not moral, after all; Stephane does not adhere to any code that would prevent him from approaching another man’s woman. The reason for his abstention seems to be an inability to feel. “There is something dead in me,” as he puts it himself, and it seems to be this “deadness” that causes him, a good looking heterosexual male in his best years, to be a bachelor, to be thoroughly wedded to his work, and to be entirely content with furthering and enjoying excellence in the realm of music and the arts. What else but some sort of lack of vitality could it possibly be?
Stephane’s own mentioning of “something dead” in him may prompt them to think of his demeanor as something inflicted on him, as a pathological condition that was caused by traumatic events. But Stephane’s refusal to become intimate with Camille in the usual way is a choice, a choice that makes sense–even if psychologists should be able to connect it to some story of early trauma. The film provides enough material for the viewer to see that a life entangled in worldly human affairs can be much less attractive than the calm and detached life that Stephane lives. Sexually intimate love, after all, does not only have the enchanting and beatific aspects that typical Hollywood romances emphasize, and that at first are in the foreground of the story of Stephane and Camille, but also unpleasant sides that grow out of the instinctual and often brutish constitution of human beings as part of the animal kingdom. Throughout “A Heart in Winter” Sautet placed a number of scenes that deliberately depict intimate relationships at their less than palatable moments.
About the DVD
Koch Lorber – Nov 2006 – Quite a spectacular difference in brightness/color between the two releases. The Koch Lorber states – ‘restored HD transfer supervised by the film’s director of photography, Yves Angelo’, so we believe that the NTSC edition is most accurate in representing the color scheme of the film. Aside from that the Second Sight, although also being progressively transferred, shows more digital noise and some minor speckles that are not apparent on the Region 1 release. Part of this could be compression as the PAL is on a single-layered DVD where the Koch Lorber is on a dual layered disc. The audio is also improved from the initial release with a 5.1 track as well as the optional mono. Koch have stacked the supplements with some interviews and an excerpt from Claude Sautet ou la Magie.
In a welcome change, Koch Lorber present the film with a newly restored high definition anamorphic transfer. Given some of the poor transfers they have released previously, the treatment here is to be applauded. The transfer of the film is very sharp and captures the slightly subdued look of the film well without it seeming too dark or colourless, it does seem some colour and contrast boosting has occurred. There is minimal noise in the transfer and this knocks the previously grainy R2 Second Sight release out of the park. The icing on the cake visually is that the film is also in the original aspect ratio of 1.66:1. Given the film was transferred under the eyes of the films’ DP, Yves Angelo, I suppose the product is unsurprisingly good.
Soundwise this is 95% perfect with music and dialogue never sounding anything other than clear and dynamic. There are two mixes, a mono track and a surround track, but no option for the original stereo mix. The tracks are well restored and you will struggle to hear any distortion or soundtrack noise. However there is two large buts. Firstly, the audio as the film moves into the closing titles sounds stretched to me and this effect is especially disturbing in the surround track. My final criticism is that of the new translation given to the subtitles. Remembering the film from its theatrical release and the R2 disc there are some crucial lines which are translated differently and in my opinion less effectively. In the R2 version Stephane’s almost penitent line “je n’arrive pas”, literally I don’t get there, is translated as “I always get there too late”, whereas here it becomes “I never manage…” – the R2 translation seems closer to the sense of the dialogue and the emotional core of the film rather than the prosaic fumbling for words suggested by the R1 disc.The extras include some French TV interviews with Sautet and Dussollier. Sautet is an agreeable interviewee who seems content to accept his interviewers views on his work, but he does look as if he is co-operating so he isn’t tortured too long. He agrees that the film portrays a world where men have learnt to avoid feeling and that women find themselves punished by their search for true emotion. Dussollier’s piece is a hotel room junket interview and short and uneventful. Sautet is interviewed again about his previous film, A Few Days With Me, and talks about that film, this film, and Nelly et Monsieur ArnaudUn Coeur En Hiver, it feels like a largely irrelevant extra. There is an excerpt from a documentary on Sautet where colleagues praise and discuss this film as his best and reveal the preparation for the film such as Beart’s year long violin training. The extras on the disc are completed by the original French trailer. The final extra is a very short piece by critic Michel Boujut about Sautet which is included in the small insert that comes with the disc. There are no stunning insights in the piece but some background on Sautet’s influences and intentions in film making. Overall, the extras give an impression of a film maker who was a modest man and whose intention was to produce strong dramatic films with great human insight.
- John White, DVD Times
In the four-page printed insert included with the DVD, film critic Michel Boujut writes that “…Sautet, like many French directors of his generation, was deeply influenced by post-war American films. His first great masters were John Ford, Howard Hawks, and John Huston.” That probably accounts at least in part for the clean, old-school framing of shots on this film. The cinematography is calm and deliberate: over-the-shoulder shots, medium close-ups, gliding shots that follow the actors naturally. There are no jittery hand-held cameras, fast MTV-like cuts, or any of the novelty film techniques that force the viewer’s eye to follow the lead of the director and editor. It was a refreshing change of pace—especially after the last few hyperkinetic American films I’ve seen—to watch a movie that emphasizes acting and dialogue over camera trickery. The slow, steady cinematography gives the viewer time to linger over the frame and take in the sumptuous detail, the facial expressions, the play of light and shadow.
- Russell Engebretson, DVD Verdict
About Claude Sautet
There is a sense of melancholy and a certain quietude that permeates Claude Sautet’s cinema, and it is in keeping with its pace, a languid but deliberate slowness, that we are able to enter into his world. Sautet’s world is a richly textured one, and requires attentiveness and a careful eye to its details. Populated by fully formed and complex characters, its skein of images is the weaving together of a series of looks, gestures, annunciations, utterances and moods of its inhabitants. Both limpid and opaque, this world and its denizens ask us to be thorough and mindful not only of what we see, but also what we hear — to listen to the conversations, the music, the ambience, as well as the silences. In this way, his films ask us to surrender our senses, to give ourselves over to them, so that we do not remain on the ‘outside’ as mere viewers or voyeurs to the intimacy on screen.
Described as a “discrete and elegant man,” for many this director is a humanist whose films may be described as “intimate-realist” films, a meticulous study of lived lives whose characters, despite their social standing, are nonetheless part of the quotidian. Who is to say that the bourgeoisie are immune to the falterings of friendship or the failings of love? For others, his films are scrutinised for their lack of criticism of the bourgeoisie and their mores, and whose films always seem to be “as pleasant, polite and polished as the man himself” and are “very French in that attractive, fashionable people prepare and eat a lot of attractive food, while grappling with life and love” kind of way. It is these kinds of split considerations that have haunted Sautet’s career and driven a rift between the two French film journals, Positif and Cahiers du cinéma, in their views and opinions of this French director. It seems that, for the latter, Sautet has simply vanished out of sight — especially in death, with the noticeable absence of obituary on this important director.
For me, his films have the ability to consume us entirely, by stripping back our emotions we come face to face with something truthful in his films.
This is what Sautet’s films do best, to reveal to us that “the other is not to be known; his opacity is not the screen around a secret, but, instead, a kind of evidence in which the game of reality and appearance is done away with.” He achieves this through carefully constructed dialogue and the way he frames his characters: never in the middle of the action, but always on the sidelines, waiting and watching silently, humbly and without judgement. It is in these ways that his images allow us to approach the other without eroding their opacity. For the enigma of the other is precisely what intrigues us; we need them to be different from ourselves, so that we may be “seized with that exaltation of loving someone unknown, someone who will remain so forever.” Like the closing of a violin, “[e]verything, all the work that has gone on underneath, is hidden. The skill of the craftsman is such that it takes two people to close up the instrument.” (13)
- Janice Tong, Senses of Cinema Great Directors Biography
About Daniel Auteuil
Biography on About.com by Jurgen Fauth and Marcy Dermansky
Algerian born Daniel Auteuil spent his teenage years traveling with his father, who was an opera singer, and claims to have grown up in the theatres of provincial France. Now one of France’s most popular and well-known male actors, Auteuil began his professional acting career in the theatre before making his big-screen debut in 1975 in Gérard Pirès’s L’Aggression, and going on to act in several stage and screen comedies. Auteuil’s career was slow to gather momentum, but in 1986 he starred in Jean de Florette and its sequel, Manon des sources, the success of which launched him into a select group of leading French character actors, alongside Gerard Depardieu and the late Yves Montand.
Writing in The Daily Telegraph, Jasper Rees describes Auteuil as “the new Depardieu—but thinner,” and it is true that since Jean de Florette the two men have vied for the affections of French cinemagoers. Yet as actors Auteuil and Depardieu could hardly be more different. While Depardieu excels as a romantic lead, Auteuil prefers more ambiguous characters, such as the landowner, Ugolin, in the “Manon” films, or the wronged lover in numerous other movies such as La Femme Française, Un Coeur en Hiver, and La Separation.
In the 1990s, Auteuil had the pick of some of the best films to have been produced by the French film industry. Un Coeur en hiver saw him co-starring for the third time with his then wife Emmanuelle Bèart in a bitter love story, and won him the Felix award for Best Actor.
Often cast in roles involving troubled relationships, conspiracy, and pragmatic moral choices, Auteuil manages to attract audiences to unpleasant or difficult characters with his laconic style, and an obvious commitment to the parts he plays.
—Chris Routledge, Film Reference.com
About Emmanuelle Beart