Un couer en hiver Review
Un coeur en hiver, which translates literally as A Heart in Winter, was Claude Sautet's penultimate film, made 8 years before his death in the summer of 2000 at the age of 76. Despite debuting in 1960 with a crime melodrama, The Big Risk, Sautet later became known for his social studies of middle-class and middle-aged life, often focused on unusual relationships. Un coeur en hiver is no exception as the film is based around a romantic triangle.
Stephane (Daniel Auteuil) and Maxime (André Dussollier) have worked together for many years repairing violins. While Maxime enjoys a rich social life and all that the French nightlife has to offer, Stephane remains at work and seems content to live vicariously through Maxime.
When Maxime's latest lover, a violin player named Camille (Emmanuelle Béart), is introduced to Stephane, she finds herself attracted to him. Believing the attraction to be mutual, Camille attempts to start a relationship with Stephane. But Stephane, unwilling or unable to achieve emotional intimacy with anyone, fails to reciprocate Camille's passion, and she grows increasingly frustrated and desperate for an emotional response that Stephane is apparently incapable of providing.
Emmanuelle Béart had no need to feign attraction for Daniel Auteuil as the pair were real-life lovers at the time, but the role of Camille required Béart to convey a wide range of emotions, from initial attraction, to frustration and despair at Stephane's lack of response. As well as more than adequately succeeding at this task, Béart also learned to play the violin specifically for the role, though in the final film she merely mimes convincingly to the performances of Jean-Jacques Kantorow.
Given that his character is defined by a lack of emotional response, much less is required of Daniel Auteuil, and he delivers a suitably understated and ambiguous performance as Stephane. André Dussollier, the third point of the triangle, is given much less screen-time and is almost inevitably over-shadowed by his more famous co-stars.
Indeed André Dussollier also takes second place to the true third star of the film, the music of Ravel. Although music does not play as dominant a role as it does in Milos Forman's exceptional Amadeus, Claude Sautet uses Camille's status as a recording musician as an excuse to include excerpts from Ravel's sonatas and especially his Piano Trio in A Minor, with its obvious symbolic reflection of the romantic triangle at the film's core.
The biggest obstacle the film faces is an unavoidable consequence of the material. The vast majority of films attempt to manipulate the audience into identifying with, and thereby empathising with, the protagonist. In this manner, the feelings of the lead character dictate to a large extent the emotional response of the audience. As the protagonist of Un coeur en hiver is, superficially at least, cold and lacking in emotion, there is a danger that the film will in turn leave audiences detached and unmoved. Stephane's coldness, his figurative heart in winter, is at the root of the drama that plays out in Un coeur en hiver, but it may also obscure for some the film’s poignancy.
The film is presented on a single-layer DVD-5 encoded for Region 2 only.
The film is presented in an anamorphic transfer in the original aspect ratio of 1.66:1. Colours are faithfully rendered but black levels are slightly weak, with a noticeable degree of low-level noise. On the positive side, the source print is in excellent condition with some mild film grain but only a negligible amount of print flecks, and there are no noticeable compression artefacts or signs of edge enhancement.
The film is presented in its original Dolby stereo format. The quality of the soundtrack supplied is perfectly adequate with no real flaws, but it is a shame that Second Sight did not use an audio bit-rate higher than an average 192kb/ps so that Ravel's music could be appreciated in higher fidelity.
The optional English subtitles are smaller than the average, but are still clear and easy to read throughout. The occasional minor line of dialogue is left un-translated in the interests of timing, but the loss is not significant.
Disappointingly, no extras have been provided. Although this is probably due to a lack of existent materials, it is a shame that Second Sight did not consider the possibility of a cast or critic's commentary.
Well-written, well-acted and directed with sophistication, Un coeur en hiver is a reminder of a time when French cinema was renowned for its subtlety and understatement rather than the attention-grabbing shock tactics of some of the country's more recent output.
Although this Second Sight edition is disappointingly devoid of extras, the disc presents the film with decent audio and video quality and is in fact the only DVD release of the film currently available.