my review: un coeur en hiver

how to describe ‘un coeur en hiver’? it’s an elegant film about a love triangle and although it is filled with wonderful music (ravel and debussy) it is not a spectacle of swelling passions. rather it takes its cue from western classical music, unfolding within a balanced composition, with organization and sangfroid. perhaps it emulates stephane, the enigmatic character at the heart of the film, played beautifully by daniel auteuil. an instrument maker who excels at delicate, complex work, he is reticent and ambivalent. perhaps this is what attracts camille, a gifted violinist who is dating stephane’s business partner maxime. not only do they both seem to express their emotions through their work, but she also desires his professional approval.

when camille gathers the courage to articulate her feelings, stephane rejects her. he tells her about his manipulative seduction which was meant to get back at maxime. stephane’s description of his relationship with maxime is surprising. it seems to be a substanceless, symbiotic partnership that he refuses to call friendship.

stephane’s words are hard to believe. perhaps he is also lying to himself. when he visits the apartment maxime and camille plan to share together, he is visibly shaken. therefore, a cold premeditated ploy seems unlikely.

there are many ways to understand stephane’s rebuff. did camille disturb the perfect synchronization between him and maxime? was stephane wary of disturbing the equilibrium in his own life, arranged meticulously like the furniture and tools in his workshop? or does he find it impossible to make a decision? his willpower at the end of the film, when he performs a difficult but compassionate act, seems to belie such passivity or indecision.

in some interviews, the director, claude sautet, has compared stephane to iago (the famous antagonist in shakespeare’s othello). but that comparison does not ring true. stephane is hardly a psychopath. just un coeur en hiver.

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