by Ruby Chingu
Director: Claude Sautet
Starring: Daniel Auteuil as Stephane, Emmanuelle Beart as Camille
There is a very small list of films I find myself to enjoy so much I keep watching them again and again. Un Coeur En Hiver is one of them. It was surprising at first, to find myself so obsessed and enchanted by a French films revolving around a violinist, a violin shop owner and his employee, a violin maker and repairer. But goddamn, the storytelling of the film is so good, I feel like watching a new film when I repeat the film again and again in my computer.
The plot of the film is beautiful in a way it tells of a simple story of complicated human feelings. Camille, our violinist was in a relationship with the easygoing Maxime, the shopowner. Maxime was a gentleman Frenchman, always calm and understanding. He also had a longstanding friendship with a violin maker in his shop, Stephane, our main character. His heart, for me, is the Heart in Winter contained in the film’s title. Stephane somehow befriended Camille, showering her with attentions he did not normally showcased with females around her – attending her practice sessions, insisting to repair her violin until it was in a perfect condition – and consequently, she fell in love with him, thinking he had feelings for her, too.
She was honest to Maxime about it and did pursue Stephane, who only denied his feelings – if he had any in the first place. He told her he was not expecting a relationship, what more the affections she wanted from him. She confronted him in a restaurant, angrily, a scene that almost came out like a nervous breakdown. But it was understandable. Her heart was broken. All that for a man whom she thought she understood but did not know at all.
In the end, Stephane lost the friendship he shared with Stephane and moved t oa new place and opened a new violin workshop. The three characters made peace and moved on with their lives, with Stephane pondering over I-don’t-know-what at the end of the film.
The heart in winter of the film. If he exists in real life, I’d prefer to call him a cold-hearted bastard. Because he kind of is. Stephane is a complicated character. Unlike Maxime, whose face always expressed feelings of friendliness, Stephane always looked so focused and intense. The way he stared at people was as if he was studying and analysing them. It could be due to the fact that he belonged to a profession that required him to be super intense – violin making, where, technically, he had to have more expertise in the field of violin and music to be able to solve the problems violinist had with their instruments. Come to think of it, he looked more at ease and more natural with his violins compared to human beings. Hmmm…
The thing that bothered me about Stephane is that I could not really know what he was thinking, or his personality or his thoughts. Did he really have feelings for Camille? Did he care about his friendship with Maxime? Did he actually intend to break Camille’s heart? Did he separate Maxime and Camille on purpose? Did he have feelings for his other female friend, who seemed to be his only other friend but Maxime? Did he this? Did he that?
Even after watching the film for a gazillion times, I still could not quite figure out the answers. And that is what makes the film so enjoyable. How the character, Stephane, is akin to so many real characters in our lives. We may know them in general but we may not know the motivations behind their actions. People do tend to conceal their feelings most of the time and build a humungous emotional wall like the way Stephane does and are not willing to break them even if a woman like Camille comes into their lives.
Nevertheless, Stephane was not a bad person. He was kind and did not mistreat people. He was the less-friendly version of Maxime. Do I like him? I think he can make a good friend. He was a person devoted to his work, which did seem to be the only love of his life and he cared to the person he cared about. Do I love him? No. A man like Stephane blocks people away when they got to close to his emotional safe zone. He did not want people to know his thoughts and his feelings. He did not want to be dependent on anyone romantically. I can imagine how frustrating it would be for a woman to fall in love with such a cold man, with a capital C.
The French Way of Life:
Another aspect I loved about the film is the way it portrayed the French lifestyle. I’m not sure if the portrayal is faithful to reality or not but I do enjoy how detailed the director was in ensuring that the portrayal seemed real. And from the perspective of a Malaysian, the French way of life is very different, very distinctive. In the small, small things like the restaurants, the cafes, the dinner parties at home etc etc.
The restaurants are usually full during lunchtime. Therefore, those who do not have a table would wait at the bar near the dining area for a few minutes, maybe smoking a cigarette or two, drinking or catching up with other people.
The view inside the restaurant. Their tables are usually small, I notice, for 2 or three people, maybe. They usually enjoy wine and coffee at the same time. And yes, cigarettes, too.
The waiting bar in a cafe. The scene where, for the first time of my life, I knew of the existence of a dish called “cheese plate”. Which literally means a plate with many types of cheeses. Never eaten that, would love to try it one day.
The view inside the cafe, which was a less posh version of the restaurant. A quite laid-back version of the establishment.
The way the wine was poured from the original bottle to the bottle of which it would be served. Observe the manners of how it was done. I don’t even know such gesture exists. But all of these detailed minute things made the film one of its kind.
The dinner party. Candles, wines, good food, intellectual really deep conversations.
The main star of the film is, of course, the music. The soundtrack used in the films is nothing short of amazing! The film single-handedly made me a fan of classical music, a genre people my age don’t really bother listening to. Songs featuring violin music are very prominent in this film.
The director made a perfect choice by using the composition of a classical music composer named Maurice Ravel. In that classical music world, they have this thing called “chamber music”, where it consists of about three to five musicians. For Ravel’s chamber music, it features music of piano, cello and violin. In contrast with the dramatic epic-sounding orchestra, the chamber music in this film is pretty intense, very slow-moving, melancholic but very very beautiful – which made it perfect for the film’s mood. The music is so good, it made me explored the world of classical music and other works by Ravel.
All in all, Un Coeur En Hiver (I have absolutely no idea how to pronounce the title) is a quintessential French film that everybody must watch. Again and again and again. It is a perfect film about us imperfect human who feel imperfect emotions that make us so fucked up in the way we are. Mistakes are a given but nevertheless, moving on is not a choice, it is a necessity. Have no idea what the heck I am babbling right now but yeah, hope you get my point.
Dear France, I will go to you one day, baby, I will!