Un coeur en hiver
(France, 1992)

I would wager a sizable amount of money that I am the only critic in North America who would place Claude Sautet's Un coeur en hiver in a personal Top 100. Yet here it is, and for good reason. This relatively obscure 1992 motion picture is one of the few films I can recall that brought me to the brink of tears without once making me feel the director's fingers plucking away at my heartstrings. The key to the film's success is its restraint. The movie is about the expression and repression of emotions, and it works because we not only see the pain that can result from shutting oneself off emotionally, but we feel it as well. Of course, the movie is not for everyone. Like many similar films, it moves slowly, allowing us to absorb the atmosphere and get to know the characters. As such, it requires a certain amount of patience (even though it isn't overly long - only 105 minutes) - a commodity that often seems lacking in today's movie-going public. Sadly, the movie is not yet available on DVD, although it was at one time released in the United States in both VHS and Laserdisc editions. And, for those in search of another reason to seek out this hard-to-find gem, it stars Daneil Auteuil and the incomparable Emmanuelle Beart, two of France's most compelling performers (both then and now). This is one of the 100 best films I have seen. (Note that the full write-up for this film is more sparse than many of the reviews I have written for Top 100 films because it exists in pretty much the same state it was in when I first penned it in 1993. This was one of the first 100-or-so reviews I wrote.)

Plot Summary (Spoilers Possible):
In addition to being employer and employee, Stephane (Daniel Auteuil) and Maxime (Andre Dussollier) share an intimate friendship. Stephane works for Maxime at an exclusive Paris violin repair shop. One evening, while the two are at dinner, Maxime announces that he has fallen in love with a new client, Camille Kessler (Emmanuelle Beart). The affair is so serious that Maxime has left his wife and intends to move in with Camille. Upon meeting, Stephane and Camille are immediately intrigued by each other. Yet, even as Stephane fights to maintain his own emotional equilibrium, for the first time in her life, Camille loses hers, and her simple attraction to Stephane becomes an obsession.

Distilled to its basic essence, Un coeur en hiver is a story that the French do so well: the romantic triangle. Beyond the premise, however, there is nothing ordinary about this film. From the point that Stephane 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 price of emotional honesty and emotional isolation. In Un coeur en hiver, strong characters, intelligent writing, and exquisite performances combine to draw the audience into the film's deep, churning currents. Those attracted only to Hollywood's shallow waters may find this picture too intimidating, but for anyone who enjoys a more complex cinematic experience, Un coeur en hiver offers an alternative.

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