Un Coeur en Hiver

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(A Heart in Winter)

France, 1991

Director: Claude Sautet

Production: Film Par Film, Cinea, Orly Film, Sedif, Paravision, D.A. Films, FR3 Films, with the participation of Les Soficas Sofinergie, Investimage, Creations, Canal Plus and the Centre National de la Cinematographie; colour, 35mm; running time: 104 minutes.

Cast: Daniel Auteuil (Stéphane); Emanuelle Béart (Camille); André Dussolier (Maxime); Elizabethe Bourgine (Hélène); Brigitte Catillon (Régine); Maurice Garrel (Lachaume); Myriam Boyer (Madame Amet); Stanislas Carre de Malberg (Brice); Jean-Luc Bideau (Ostende).

Awards: Silver Lion and International Critics' Prize, Venice 1992.



Variety (New York), 7 September 1992.

Legrand, G., and others, Positif (Paris), September 1992.

Nacache, J., "Un Coeur en hiver: attendre et vieillir" in Revue du Cinéma (Paris), September 1992.

Andrew, G., "Musical Trio" in Time Out (London), 21 April 1993.

Monk, C., Sight and Sound (London), May 1993.

Kissin, E.H, Films in Review (New York), October 1993.

Lis, Renata, "Serce Daniela Auteuil," in Kino (Warsaw), January 1995.

Zizek, S., "There Is No Sexual Relationship," in Spectator (Los Angeles), vol. 16, no. 2, 1996.

"Special issue," Avant-Scène du Cinéma (Paris), June 1996.

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Claude Sautet's subtly haunting Un coeur en hiver is a film about the deepest human feelings and fears, especially fear of intimacy and fear of rejection. The film is the story of three people. Maxime (André Dussolier) and Stéphane (Daniel Auteuil) are long-time professional associates who operate a small company which constructs and restores violins. The former runs the business end of the operation, and the latter is an expert craftsman who handles the repairs. One day, Maxime informs Stéphane that he has met somebody: Camille (Emmanuelle Béart), a beautiful and talented violinist. Maxim explains that he and Camille have fallen in love, and are planning to live together.

Stéphane is a loner, who is immersed in his craft. His sole confidante is Hélène, the proprietress of a bookstore, with whom he shares a platonic relationship. As Stéphane and Camille begin spending time together in their professional capacities, it becomes clear that they are attracted to each other. Stéphane admits as much to Hélène, while Camille—despite her involvement with Maxim—asks him the $64 dollar question: "Have you ever been in love?"

Sautet communicates his characters' thoughts as much visually as verbally. Just after Camille poses this question, she is seen kissing Maxime and then turning away; next, she is shown to look forlorn. A further reason for her discomfort is that she senses a reticence on the part of Stéphane. To her, this is an enigma. Eventually, she asks him, "Why are you hiding from me?" Stéphane, meanwhile, can only further distance himself from her. Eventually, an elated Camille reveals to Stéphane that she wants him, and can accept the fact that he lives in an "enclosed world." Stéphane replies that she misunderstands him. He cruelly tells her that he has wanted to seduce her, without loving her, and that he listens to her play her violin only because it is his "job." Stéphane, of course, is covering his true feelings. At first, this seems self-destructive, as he is thwarting any chance for the involvement he desires with Camille. His remarks deeply hurt Camille, and, ultimately, she ends up settling for Maxime. At the finale, Stéphane, Camille and Maxime meet in a cafe. As the latter two depart, there is a look of sadness on Camille's face. As Stéphane is left alone, he too shares that look, but he remains unable to express his emotions and share his life with another. To his mind, his rejection of Camille is an act of self-preservation.

At the opening of Un coeur en hiver, it is observed that violins are the "most precious possessions" of violinists. This declaration has profound meaning as the scenario evolves. If the instruments are such, they are so because they are safe. They have no free will. They will never abandon their owners. If they fall apart from usage, they always can be repaired. They are dependable and reliable—unlike human beings. When Maxime initially tells Stéphane of his relationship with Camille, it is noted that Maxime already is married and is planning to leave his wife. Even though the latter character is never seen, one can envision the heartache she will feel when informed by Maxime that he is in love with Camille. At another point, it is casually observed that one of Camille's fellow musicians is in love with her. While he may be a minor character, his emotions are real, and one also can imagine how he must feel as he watches Camille and Maxime.

Furthermore, even when two people connect, relations between them are inevitably less than harmonious. Caring becomes interspersed with friction; this is exactly what Stéphane observes while watching Louis, an aged music teacher, relate to his wife. And even if that relationship is one without discord, it is destined to end with the demise of one of the lovers, and the inevitable despair and loneliness of the remaining partner.

Emotions are complex, inexact, ever-changing; in human relationships, feelings are dependent upon the responses of others. Stéphane is keenly aware of all this, and it is for this reason that, despite his feelings, he distances himself from Camille. He is afraid of allowing himself to love her, because of the pain he may be forced to endure. As a result, he presents himself as passionless, which even plays itself out during an intellectual discussion in which he professes to have no opinion on the subject at hand.

The relationships in Un coeur en hiver are not only between lovers. Camille has for many years roomed with Régine, her manager. As Camille prepares to move in with Maxime, Régine must adjust to a new and more solitary lifestyle, a fact which she acts out by becoming angry at Camille. Later on, Stéphane tells Camille that he considers Maxime a business partner, and not a friend. Camille retorts that Stéphane's attitude is "just a pose." "It's strange how you enjoy giving yourself a bad image," she adds. Of course, Stéphane is not cold-hearted. He and Maxime are in fact friends, and he truly values their relationship. What Camille does not understand is that Stéphane simply is fearful of facing his emotions.

In the end, Stéphane is a lonely figure, one who is "unconnected with life." His solitude shelters him, keeping him protected from the hurt feelings that are the offshoots of human connection. Is he better or worse off? To answer this question, Sautet points out that, while we all are solitary souls, if we do not choose to be brave and risk connecting emotionally with others, our lives can never be complete.

—Rob Edelman