Before the Winter Chill (2014) Avant l’Hiver

May 6th, 2014
Author: Meredith Taylor

Director: Philippe Claudel

Cast: Daniel Auteuil, Kristen Scott Thomas, Richard Berry, Leila Bakri

Drama    French with subtitles

Novelist turned film-maker Philippe Claudel third feature is a gentle riff on the theme of  ‘A la Recherche de Temps Perdu’.  Intimate in feel and dialogue driven, it makes lavish use of its lush Luxembourgeois setting to tell a classic love story that interlinks the lives of three people and their close friends and family.  Naturally, being French, it’s also a ménage à trios and stars Daniel Auteuil and Kristin Scott Thomas.

Auteuil plays Paul, a neurosurgeon in his sixties whose long marriage to Lucie (Scott Thomas) is happy enough but lacking in sparkle.  Gérard (Richard Berry), their oldest friend, shares a medical practice with Paul and the three are close; Lucie spending her days working in the couple’s modernist house with extensive landscaped gardens and doting on her grandchild. But all is not well in paradise and when Paul starts receiving mystery bouquets of roses, the skies start to darken.

Around the same time, a young Moroccan waitress in Paul’s local cafe, engages him in conversation, claiming to be a former patient, Lou Vallee (Leila Bakri). Gradually Paul is drawn into her story, one of sadness and emotional trauma. Falling for her sultry charms, Paul leaves the family home to ‘get some space’. He’s a decent guy and unsure of himself  in this latelife crisis. At this point Gérard moves in for the kill, revealing his feelings for Lucie in a subtle interplay of shock and bewilderment. Through Gérard, Claudel lampoons this bourgeois set-up with its unfounded dissatisfaction and ennui. This couple appears to have had an easy ride of it: Paul has reached a professional plateau and Lucie moans that her days her full of emptiness in classic bored housewife mode. And Lou is a complex character and not all she seems and as Paul’s life spins out of control, it’s not just his marriage but his professional integrity that is on the line. Lou is ravishingly attractive but does she possess the magnetism to lure Paul away from his comfortable surroundings.  Auteuil captures the naivety of a man who’s been married a long time, but is unsophisticated when it comes to the game of love and out of touch with his feelings.

What makes this story appealing is the easy and watchable way that Auteuil and Scott Thomas inhabit their well-worn roles as an ordinary (albeit affluent) couple whose bond is deeper than the first flush of sexual attraction but has reached a point of mutual understanding and acceptance. They hold the narrative firmly in their hands and the support cast spin round them like acolytes unable to compete. It may not be an extraordinary drama but what it does, it does extraordinarily well.

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