Ein Herz im Winter
„Ein Herz im Winter” — “Un Coeur en Hiver” — A Heart in Winter”
Frankreich 1992 – Regie: Claude Sautet – Musik: Maurice Ravel
mit André Dussollier (Maxime), Emmanuelle Béart (Camille) und Daniel Auteuil (Stéphane)
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  Frank Maloney Mark R. Leeper James Berardinelli Merlin  
UN COEUR EN HIVER (A HEART IN WINTER) is a 1992 French film directed by Claude Sautet. The cast includes Daniel Auteuil, Emmanuelle Béart, André Dussolier, and Elisabeth Bourgine. The film is unrated, in French with English subtitles.

UN COEUR EN HIVER is a welcome antidote for the summer glut of big-bucks, effects-rich, story-poor action films. UN COEUR has won extensive honors in Europe, and rightly so, including 1992 Cesars (the French Oscars) for best director (Claude Sautet) and best supporting actor (André Dussolier) with nominations for Daniel Auteuil and Emmanuelle Béart for best male and female actor, respectively. Sautet is a masterful director with a breath-taking sense of timing, of when to cut and when to linger, a master of silences that speak volumes. He placed the images of his film on top a sound track that includes many fragments of the incredibly beautiful Sonatas and Trio of Maurice Ravel, perfect choice--passionate, intimate chamber music to illuminate a film about passion. Indeed, it is not too far-fetched to regard UN COEUR as a kind of chamber film, if you will, more at home in intimate surroundings than grand auditoria, a film of intimate and delicately controlled emotionalism, a film in which three players enact of quiet drama.

Béart plays an up-and-coming violinist who through most of the film is either rehearsing or recording the Ravel. It is no small achievement that she completely convinced me and my partner Lyndol (himself a musician) that she was playing the complex, passionate music with authority and virtuosity. In actuality, the music was performed by Jean-Jacques Kantorow.

Béart is one of the cinema's great beauties, in addition to being an actor of taste and intelligence. Here she plays Camille. Béart's physical beauty is perfect match for Camille's precise, demanding, perfectionist aesthetics. And when in a critical scene Camille appears drunk, her make-up garish and sloppy, her hair as disarrayed as her emotions and her career and art momentarily put to one side, it is profoundly shocking, deeply painful.

Camille's foil is Stephan, played by Auteuil. Stephan is a failed musician who has become a master violin maker and restorer. Stephan is handsome, introverted, denying himself love and passion, denying even a capacity to love, a giant ear (as he is called by one of his victims), casually cruel in his refusal to love others. He lives a spartan life, as spare of emotion as it is of furniture. His partner, Maxim (Dussolier), has taken Camille as his lover, in the process disrupting a relationship between the violinist and her agent and mentor and apartment-mate (Elisabeth Bourgine). Maxim furthers Camille's education and growth, but it Stephan whom she desires. The more Stephan tells her that he is unavailable, the more obsessed Camille becomes with him. He indulges himself in a games of approach and avoidance that takes on a life of its own and eventually hurts all three in this reticent menage a trois.

Reticence is at the heart of this film's style and greatness. The dialogue of silences, passionate refusal to touch and be touched, the emptying of emotions are acts of privacy carried out largely in public, in bars, rehearsal halls, on the streets of Paris. The one scene of overt emotionalism, acted out in a familiar bar-restaurant, is cleverly foreshadowed in the same bar by a different, less austere couple. They recover quickly, whereas the principals never fully recover the things that were last in that later scene.

The film is also illuminated by a quiet cinematography that works the ambient light as extension of the story, as part of the dialogue. The design, likewise, is restrained, unobtrusive. Even Auteuil's Christian Dior wardrobe is too rich, too tasteful to call attention to itself.

One of our local critics sees UN COEUR as revisionist comment on the French Lover of movie history. Only Maxim fits the suave, debonair role, but even he is far from the stereotype in his actions and words. Stephan as the anti-lover is far from the stumbling, bumbling, clownish Pierre Richard sort of French comic tradition. I don't object to the critic putting the film in a filmic context. However, I think this aspect is only one of the subtexts here even though I don't want to write much about what I see is the meaning of UN COEUR since that would require an essay of a very personal nature and like Stephan I would prefer not to expose myself to my own emotions.

Instead, let me get by with saying that UN COEUR EN HIVER is a mature, accomplished, complete achievement of fine French filmmaking. It is a film that I recommend to any adult at any price and a film I hope you get a chance to see.

A film review by Frank Richard Aloysius Jude Maloney

Copyright 1993 Frank Maloney

  Frank Maloney Mark R. Leeper James Berardinelli Merlin  

A film review by Mark R. Leeper (leeper@mtgzfs3.att.com)

Copyright 1993 Mark R. Leeper

Rating: low +3 (-4 to +4)

Capsule review: This is just about the best film I could think of about a love triangle. Most of the film revolves around the personality of one of the main characters, which is only gradually revealed in the film, so I will refrain from discussing it. This is a thoughtful, intelligent film and one of the best I have seen this year.

For many years Stephan (played by Daniel Auteuil) and Maxim (played by André Dussolier) have been partners in a violin repair business in Paris. Where Maxim is handsome and affable, Stephan is introspective and introverted. In the years of their partnership Maxim has been married and divorced and has dated many women. Stephan has little life outside of the repair business. He is a genius in building and repairing violins. He has one friend, a woman, in whom he confides, but their relationship is purely platonic. Maxim's latest girlfriend is Camille, a brilliant and beautiful violinist (played by Emmanuelle Béart) who takes an instant dislike to the blunt Stephan, but when it is clear that Stephan appreciates Camille's music, Camille becomes interested in the odd loner. The stage is set for a tragic love story.

UN COEUR EN HIVER revolves around about Stephan's unusual personality, which is revealed only gradually through the film. Suffice it to say this is a much more touching and engaging film than could be expected from the above description. Stephan is a personality type rarely seen in film, yet not nearly so rare in real life. I went into this film expecting a fatuous love story and came out with a film that will almost definitely be on my top ten list of the year. Stephan's personality, what it does to him, and how others use it and react to it make this a thoughtful and intelligent addition to the films of this year. UN COEUR EN HIVER was directed by Claude Sautet from a screenplay he co-authored with Jacques Fieschi. Scenes of Emmanuelle Béart playing Ravel (beautifully orchestrated by Philippe Sarde) have a pristine beauty that is as sexy as anything you will find in any American film this year. I give it a low +3 on the -4 to +4 scale.

  Frank Maloney Mark R. Leeper James Berardinelli Merlin  

Starring: Daniel Auteuil, Emmanuelle Béart, André Dussollier, Elisabeth Bourgine Director: Claude Sautet Producers: Jean-Louis Livi and Philippe Carcassonne Screenplay: Yves Ulmann, Jacques Fieschi, and Jerome Tonnere Music: Maurice Ravel Released by October Films French with English Subtitles

Stéphane (Daniel Auteuil) and Maxime (André Dussollier) share a friendship the closeness of which is unusual between employee and employer. Stéphane works for Maxime at an exclusive Paris violin repair shop. One evening, when the two are at dinner, Maxime announces that he has fallen in love with a new client, Camille Kessler (Emmanuelle Béart). The affair is so serious that Maxime has left his wife and intends to move in with Camille. Upon meeting his friend's new lover, Stéphane is immediately intrigued, and the reaction is certainly mutual. It doesn't take long for the feelings between the two to grow, and their contact, while infrequent, becomes increasingly intimate. Yet even as Stéphane fights to maintain his own emotional equilibrium, for the first time in her life, Camille loses hers, and her simple attraction to Stéphane becomes an obsession.

Often foreign films, and French films in particular, are thought of by the average movie-goer as being exceptionally (and some would say "overly") intellectual. This could not be more true than for UN COEUR EN HIVER, yet it is not merely the mind that this film touches. The rich musical score (Ravel) is a feast for the ears, and the exceptional performances of the principals leads to several emotionally-potent moments. UN COEUR EN HIVER is one of those rare films that can be described as completely satisfying.

Distilled to its basic essence, the movie is a story that the French do so well: the romantic triangle. Beyond the premise, however, there is nothing ordinary about UN COEUR EN HIVER. From the point where Stéphane and Camille meet, much of what happens goes contrary to expectations. Theirs is definitely not a typical tale of clandestine love. Rather, it is an examination of the prices of emotional honesty and emotional isolation.

Oddly enough, it's Stéphane, the character with the most screen time (and the man whose heart is "in winter") who remains much the enigma to the audience. Even though we come to identify with him, and understand some of what he does, the depth of his emotions often remains unclear. The last scene of the movie explicitly reveals part of the truth, but for much about Stéphane, the viewer must reach his or her own conclusions.

Daniel Auteuil plays his role with ability. His is a difficult performance to make succeed, given the ambiguity surrounding Stéphane, but Auteuil has found the perfect balance. At times it becomes difficult to determine whether Stéphane should be pitied or vilified, and it is to Auteuil's credit that he manages to maintain this uncertainty.

Camille is no less a complicated character, but her feelings are simpler to read. She hides nothing, and when she recognizes that she loves Stéphane, there is no doubt in her mind--or ours--of the truth. Especially noteworthy is the way that Camille's sudden, intense passion for Stéphane intertwines, and at times conflicts with her lifelong love of music.

Emmanuelle Béart gives an astonishing, unaffected performance. Emotion is often displayed in the most subtle and easy-to-miss gestures, expressions, and vocal inflections. Before beginning production of UN COEUR EN HIVER, Béart 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 accomplished, but the look of rapture on her face as she loses herself in the music of Ravel is a clear example of how fully Ms. Béart allowed the personae of Camille to enfold her.

Béart explained the importance of coming to understand music as integral to defining Camille: "[Director] Claude [Sautet] told me from the beginning, 'I will only ask one thing of you; play the violin. The day you can play the violin, you will be Camille. There is nothing more I can tell you about the character.'" Indeed, it is the importance of music to Camille that puts every other emotion in the film, whether displayed by her or by others, into perspective.

UN COEUR EN HIVER is yet another case of real-life chemistry translating well to the screen. Béart and Auteuil are companions away from their acting, and the spark of this intensity, even unfulfilled as it is here, is too obvious to miss.

With the exceptions of MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING and SOMMERSBY, there have been no 1993 releases to equal the power of UN COEUR EN HIVER. Strong characters, intelligent writing, and exquisite performances combine to draw the audience into the movie. Mental and emotional participation are demanded. This is a movie with deep, churning currents. Those who are attracted only to Hollywood's shallow waters may find UN COEUR EN HIVER too intimidating, but anyone who enjoys a more complex cinematic experience will find as much as they could hope for in this picture.

A film review by James Berardinelli (blake7@cc.bellcore.com)

Copyright 1993 James Berardinelli

Rating: 9.5 out of 10 (A+, **** out of ****)

  Frank Maloney Mark R. Leeper James Berardinelli Merlin    

A film review by Merlin (epc1@midway.uchicago.edu )

Copyright 1993 Merlin

Rating: 3.2/4.0 (B+)

Starring: Daniel Auteuil, Emmanuelle Béart, André Dussollier, Elisabeth Bourgine Director: Claude Sautet Producers: Jean-Louis Livi and Philippe Carcassonne Screenplay: Yves Ulmann, Jacques Fieschi, and Jerome Tonnere Music: Maurice Ravel Released by October Films French with English Subtitles

Many people dislike French films for their lack of closure. While possibly shallow, I've often had a desire for a sense of epiphany, or at least a resolution, in the films which I view. There is no revelation in UN COEUR EN HIVER in the traditional; however, the film is incredibly successful in its passionate dramatization of a passion-denying protagonist, Stéphane (Daniel Auteuil).

Stéphane (Daniel Auteuil) is a master violin maker. He is passionless about all that which surrounds him except his craft and the music which his craft is responsible for producing. Even the relationship between he and his boss, Maxime (André Dussollier) is a controlled, and almost manipulated association, highlighted by the fact that Stéphane permits Maxime to win close squash matches. In the beginning of the movie, Stéphane is a closed, solitary individual and the audience is carefully left to wonder about the depth of emotion behind this enigmatic man.

Camille Kessler (Emmanuelle Béart) is a master violinist and the new love of Maximes. Maxime is so much in love with Camille that he plans to and does leave his wife. Like Stéphane, Camille is outwardly very controlled and reserved, sacrificing all thought and emotion to her violin and the music which emerges.

When Stéphane and Camille meet, there is a recognition of a bonding by both individuals. However, whereas Camille submits to the wild interplay of emotions which she now feels for Stéphane, Stéphane only admits that Camille is attracted to him. Stéphane ignores his feelings for Camille, which the audience cannot help but to see is present.

As the movie progresses, the two characters become more and more polarized in their views and emotions for one another. These two people, with very similar approaches to life initially, react to their new circumstance very differently. Stéphane becomes even more rational and controlled, while Camille becomes more tempestuous, until she almost borders on suffering a nervous breakdown due to the inability to consummate their relationship.

However, their approach to each other is perhaps not surprising considering their vocation. The audience is led to believe that Stéphane may have been a genius as a violinist as well, due to his relationship with a master violin teacher. However, apparently, he could not be a violinist due to his intolerance for flaws in his playing. Consequently, Stéphane becomes a precision craftsmen with the instrument and no longer plays. In contrast, Camille had almost given the violin, years earlier. However, with the aid of her manager, she has progressed to being almost one of the world's finest, successfully submerging herself to her playing.

During the course of the movie, we see both characters evolve as they struggle to meet the challenge of their new emotions. Stéphane attempts to remain unchanged. However, we do see subtle hints of his transformation. One of the most obvious is when he defeats Maxime in squash.

The development of all of the characters, many of which is not included in this synopsis, is incredible. American movies, with rare exceptions, have not and I would daresay cannot approach foreign films in character development. In its essence, this movie is about the development and growth of the characters, Camille and Stéphane. The portrayal of all the other characters in the movie, including a death, is to further the development of Camille's and Stepahne's characters.

I am not sure why Berardinelli says, "At times it becomes difficult to determine whether Stéphane should be pitied or vilified, and it is to Auteuil's credit that he manages to maintain this uncertainty." This movie is not about judging Stéphane's actions as being right or wrong, but about viewing their growth and accepting the characters as who they are.

I find the ending appropriate; unfortunately, I found the last ten minutes which led up to the final scene to be very unfulfilling. This portion of the film is where the "sense of closure" could have been successfully accomplished. Unfortunately, there is a hurried and almost a soap opera-type surge of emotions from all of the characters.

While Ravel may not be quite as accomplished as Schubert or Mozart, Ravel has his day in this film. The synergism of the tension of Ravel's music and tension on the screen is the best I have ever seen.

The directing in this movie is wonderful. The actors and actresses are excellent, each playing their part with great sincerity and warmth. Emmanuelle Béart's personality is beautiful. And needless to say, I must say that Emmanuelle Béart, herself, is beautiful. Besides the near ending, the only other criticism of the movie which I have is that the movie is almost too cerebral. I almost left with the sense little happened because almost all the changes which occur in the movie happen in deep in their psyches and little in their personalities or the situations which they end as part of. The one question which I am left with is while they have accepted their lot, has their attitude towards love changed? I have several possibilities which I believe the movie hints at, but I am unsure of which the director is espousing.

In summary, this movie is solely about the character growth of two characters who almost develop a relationship. In the process, we see their attitude towards life and other people. In itself, I do not believe Un Coeur is a complicated movie. Where it does become complicated is when we juxtapose the scenes of the movie into the greater walk of life where we, as Americans, have preconceived American notions of relationship, love, and people.

I do wonder how the movie translates when viewed within its native French culture. However, I, bringing my American preconceptions, enjoyed the film. I would welcome any comments about this movie from any who have seen it.

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herz@ein-herz-im-winter.de Copyright 1999–2003, Oliver Braun, Berlin letzte Änderung: 18.07.2004