Chicago Sun-Times, 2. Juli 1993
Un Coeur en Hiver.
Un Coeur en Hiver. A heart in winter. There are those who somehow
cannot love, who were born or made without that gift in their personality.
In all other ways they may be complete, but something is broken
inside, and love, which can heal so many things, cannot repair it.
Un Coeur en Hiver is the story of such a man.
His name is Stéphane. He is an expert builder and repairer
of violins so good that the greatest violinists from all over
the world come to his studio in Paris. He is not the owner, however,
but an employee, and happy to be employed. Relations with the public
he leaves with Maxime, who has been his boss and co-worker for many
It is a crucial point, I think, that Un Coeur en Hiver begins
with a narration by Stéphane describing the relationship
of these two men. They are not homosexual indeed, by the end of
the film they will have come to blows over the same woman but
Stéphane's life is defined by the fact that he works for
Maxime, admires him, envies his social skills, and depends on him
as a shield against the world. Maxime has those gifts which Stéphane
lacks, and so by staying close to him, he can make use of them.
It is a symbiotic relationship.
One day a beautiful young woman, Camille, a gifted violinist,
comes into the workshop. She needs advice on her violin, which the
two men are able to give her. Soon she is dating Maxime, as Stéphane
looks on from a distance. Then Camille and Stéphane have
a conversation about her playing, and two things become evident:
Stéphane hears a great deal when he listens to music, and
Camille has fallen in love with him.
She tells Maxime. It is regrettable, and messy, but there it is:
She loves his partner, and must leave him. She goes to Stéphane.
He is flattered, and overwhelmed; he finds her beautiful, and desires
her. That would be the end of the story, except that it gradually
develops that Stéphane is in no mood to commit himself to
their relationship. He is not physically incapable, but it's as
if his personality is impotent. Or almost as if Stéphane
is more comfortable when Maxime takes care of those kinds of details.
Un Coeur en Hiver, directed by Claude Sautet, has the intensity
and delicacy of a great short story. It reveals how superficial
most movie romances are because they make love too simple, and
too easy a solution. The heart has needs that love does not understand,
and for Stéphane, perhaps the comfort of his routine and
the consolations of his craft are more valuable than the risks of
Daniel Auteuil plays Stéphane. He has an inward-looking
face, a repose; he tells us more about himself in the narration
than he tells anyone in the film. Camille is Emmanuelle Béart,
beautiful, yes, but required here to be a convincing violinist and
a theorist about music. She is given a difficult role, and avoids
its hazards brilliantly. She must throw over one man and be rejected
by another (many of the crucial scenes are in public), and yet seem
not foolish but simply unlucky. She must maintain her dignity, or
the film will become the story of a woman scorned, which it is not.
It is the story of a man not scorned of how Stéphane psychologically
cannot take the woman from Maxime.
As a general rule, the characters in French films seem more grownup
than those in American films. They do not consider love and sex
as a teenager might, as the prizes in life. Instead, they are challenges
and responsibilities, and not always to be embraced. Most movie
romances begin with two people who should be in love, and end, after
great difficulties, with those two people in love. Here is a movie
about two people who should not be in love, and how they deal with