Retrospective: Un Coeur en Hiver (1992)


Harry Riedl is a film enthusiast from West London and this continues a series of retrospective reviews on his favourite cult classics.
A movie generally covers the basic emotions of human existence: love, hate, fear and so on. When a movie covers these and more, yet has so little character development you have a very tricky movie to review. Un Coeur en Hiver is at its very core a movie about a tragic love triangle between a pretty violinist, Camille (the very beautiful Emmanuel Béart), an owner of a Violin shop, Maxime (Andre Dussolier) and his partner and friend Stéphane (Daniel Auteuil).

These relationships are supported by various characters who help to explore the backgrounds of these figures. The relationship between Camille and Stephane is particularly fascinating as they feel they understand each other yet cannot express their emotion, not out of restraint but because they feel physically unable to do so. They express their emotions into their work: Camille in her music and Stephane through his violins. When they talk, they express so much through glances and their long looks at each other create something which most movies almost never achieve through a sincere sense of longing. Stephane isn’t as good looking and is cold and distant, but that is part of his appeal. He is something she can’t have because of his restraint and emotional emptiness. This lack of emotion is central to the movie with a powerful result.

One of the reasons for giving this movie a retrospective is that more than any other movie I’ve seen it reveals the horror of small things, which creates a believable atmosphere among these highly strung artistic types who inhabit the upper reaches of professional classical music. Béart gives a fantastic performance as a musician and is particularly moving with the use of the chaotic and beautiful Raval, the only soundtrack throughout the movie. Seeing her move to the music so expressively proves that in the small screen you can still express emotions subtly through actions just like theatre. In this beautiful movie you see some revealing attitudes this rarefied crowd have on the rest of society through discussions regarding how people understand art. Some of the dialogue could feel rather snobbish and narrow minded but feels elevated given the context.

The French movie industry is much beloved by the British literary middle class of which I include myself. They create great movies out of what sounds like terrible ideas and approach subject matter so unlike any other type of foreign, British or Hollywood movie. This particular movie in many ways is a forgotten classic. When it was released it won many awards and helped Beart and Auteuil careers enormously. 1992 in this movie feels very far away and it could be argued that it didn’t have to be set in the present day and could have been set at any time from the early modern (14th  Century) to the 20th due the specialised subject matter. However, the feeling of alienation and its dissolute nature fits perfectly with the feeling of the early 90s, especially in a French context which tend to express these feelings in a more open way.

I admit this is quite a pretentious review and it’s certainly the polar opposite of  my recent French retrospective, 36. The gulf between the two movies is enormous and the fact that Auteuil is in both is merely incidental. Un Coeur en Hiver is about expressing emotions and relations between people who act like real people, a fact many movies seem to forget. It is at times frustrating and pretentious but its charms outweigh its faults. The nature of the story doesn’t go far but where it does go is fascinating and very revealing about the difficulty of relationships, which seem to have a life of their own and start and stop at their choosing.

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