Stars – Kristen Scott Thomas & Daniel Autueil
Genre – Drama
Run Time – 1 hr 43 minutes
Certificate – 15
Country – France
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So based on the book of the same name ‘Before the Winter Chill’ is most notable for putting together anglophile Kristen Scot Thomas and Daniel Autueil, two of Frances most revered actors. A good cast is generally the only reason to watch French dramas as they tend to very talky and intense. I really like these two actors though and so thought I would give it a watch. Not many others gave it a watch though as its 8 million Euro budget did just 2.8 million Euros back. It’s much better than that bit subtitles just don’t sell.
It’s an affecting midlife mood piece around marriage and the moment the trophy wife of a successful man who set aside her career for her husband realizes she has been just that as the wrinkles increase and the husband begins that self loathing stage of playing along with that conservative lifestyle to maintain his image as a top surgeon, missing out on the all the fun and risk that first attracted them to each other. I think we all needed to have slept with more people than we have by our 40th birthday.
- Daniel Auteuil – Paul
- Kristin Scott Thomas – Lucie
- Leïla Bekhti – Lou
- Richard Berry – Gérard
- Vicky Krieps – Caroline
- Jérôme Varanfrain – Victor
- Anne Metzler – Zoé Gassard
- Laure Killing – Mathilde
- Laurent Claret – Denis – le directeur de la clinique
- Annette Schlechter – Madame Malek
- Joël Delsaut – Le capitaine Thierry Weiler
- Jacqueline Ghaye – Juliette
- Pascale Noe Adam – Anouk (as Pascale Noé Adam)
- Lucie Debay – Amie de Lou
Philippe Claudel (Auteuil), a successful neurosurgeon, and his attractive and elegant wife Lucie (Kristin Scott Thomas) live a very comfortable middle-class life as the autumn of their lives approaches.
After time off work for an illness Philippe starts to receive mysterious bouquets from a secret admirer. He discovers the admirer is a beautiful but troubled young woman called Lou (Leïla Bekhti), who insists the flowers are gratitude for him saving her life on the operating table. Philippe has no memory of her and after a few more gifts tells her to stay away from him.
Paul has never questioned his choices in life but the young girl begins to prey on his mind. He married right out of med school to Lucie, who set aside her own career to accommodate his brilliant one as a brain surgeon. He has been faithful, earned the respect of his peers and raised a son and built a lovely home in return. But the young lady sparks something in him and he begins to want to know what she is about. Is her story true? Does she want to be with him? Does he want to be with her? Is there another reason she is sending him flowers and pulling him in?
Fascinated by her emotional frailty, her mystery and grace, Paul tries to unpick here and enjoys spending time with her in an avuncular way but, as yet, not in a sexual way, which Lou cannot understand and frustrated by. She needs him to want her. But when Lucie is told of their liaisons by the aupair tension rises at home as that long earned trust begins to crumble.
Although mixed reviews from the film press I rather liked this one and drawn into it somehow. It’s one of those Gitanes smoking dialogue led movies we are so used to from France that can be rather tiring in their posturing and nose flaring but not this one. It has an unexpected and violent twist that somehow doesn’t belong here as there was no hint of it, and that would have made it a very different movie if that was the case. I don’t really think it needed it as it has an agreeable feeling to it anyway on its original themes. Its probably one of those book-to-film adventures where the book is much stronger.
It also looks at that thing we all know in movies where young attractive women are drawn to successful men as dating and marrying money makes life a whole lot easier for women. Their commodity is their looks so why not sell themselves that way? Men tend to go for looks and figure first and so we/they deserve everything we get when it goes wrong.
The always enigmatic and stylish Kristen Scott Thomas brings class to the film in what is a straightforward role as the doting career wife. Autuiel, on the other hand, is this rather poe-faced actor and a face full of inquisitiveness yet pathos and always interesting. Leïla Bekhti as the mysterious beauty is clearly in awe of her team mates and does her best.
If you like the French dramas then you will enjoy this. It does mess around with this metaphor around classical music and emotions that’s a little pretentious but at the same time kind of works in context. It is a French film after all. It’s intriguing towards the end and not just a perfunctory romantic drama. It just makes you think about emotions around getting old and how much we are shaped by how attractive and intelligent we are and how we cope when those things fade.
Imdb.com – 6.2/10.0 (1.143votes)
Rottentomatos.com – 71% critic’s approval
Metacritic.com – 63% critic’s approval
Daily Express –‘You need to be patient with Before The Winter Chill. It is a gloomy, slow-burning film that adds insight and intrigue the way an artist brings texture and colour to a painting’.
The Scotsman –‘All the performances are very good, I find Scott Thomas really watchable, but while everyone being a bit resigned might be reality for many, it isn’t engaging’.
The Observer –‘With its chilly visual sheen and sharp bourgeois satire, this handsomely mounted and consistently well-played yarn offers disposable pleasures and rewarding intrigue’.
Hollywood Reporter –‘Elegantly cool rather than downright chilly, novelist-turned-filmmaker Philippe Claudel’s third feature has a distinctly literary feel, as it plants its dramatic seeds very methodically before accelerating to a startling denouement’
Independent –‘Auteuil, looking jowly and weatherbeaten, brings bafflement and pathos to his role as the man suddenly consumed by self-loathing’
Little White Lies –‘There’s truth in the central relationship metaphor of looking after the family garden “before the winter chill”, but its scant cinematic recompense for the weed patch where events culminate’.
The Mail –‘An intriguing thriller based on melancholy, mystery, vagueness, ambiguity and perfectionism’.
BBC Films-‘It’s only towards the end that you discover that Before the Winter Chill could have been a gripping thriller. Instead it’s a mildly haunting disquisition on the peril of the midlife crisis’.