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Before the Winter Chill | reviews, news & interviews

Before the Winter Chill

Before the Winter Chill

Another portrait of a French marriage on the rocks secretly wants to be a thriller

Look who's stalking: Daniel Auteuil and Leïla Bekhti in 'Before the Winter Chill'

French cinema is full of long-term marriages hit by a meteor in the form of an attractive younger female. So there is a heavy sense of déjà vu to Before the Winter Chill. It also features another increasingly common trope of modern French film, which is Kristin Scott Thomas playing a perfect French speaker with an English heritage, and accent. So is there a twist? Sort of.

Scott Thomas is Lucie (pictured below), the wife of a successful neurosurgeon Paul (Daniel Auteuil) who prefers to operate on brains rather than suffer the fate of his shrink friend Gérard (Richard Berry), who has to listen to what’s in his patient’s heads. That all changes when he is recognised – and tremulously thanked - by beautiful young bar-worker Lou (Leïla Bekhti) who says she was a patient of his as a child. He doesn’t remember, but is soon getting regular reminders in the form of anonymous deliveries of red carnations. The gifts amount to stalking, and then he starts to see her in the street, at the concert hall, even one time when a road diversion takes him into a red-light zone and he discovers that she moonlights as a prostitute.

Being the uxorious type Paul resists Lou’s advances, but his defence weakens just as he suffers a breakdown and is forced to take a sabbatical from the operating room. Meanwhile back at home, Lucie, who has a profoundly depressed sister to cope with, does a large amount of gardening and worrying. The stage seems all set for yet another tale of anguished infidelity. The twist is that there’s something unsettling about Lou which doesn’t quite stack up.

Philippe Claudel's debut I've Loved You So Long (2008) also starred Scott Thomas. This autumnal portrait of a marriage, with its melancholy palette of overcast skies and falling leaves, might have had the same title. Through other characters his script posits alternatives to marital calcification – never marrying at all, or separating before it’s too late. For all these musings, it's an indictment that the most moving scene sits to the side of the main thrust: before she goes under the knife, one of Paul’s elderly patients talks for the first time ever about her family all killed in the Holocaust.

The cast led by Auteuil and Scott Thomas hit all the right notes, while Bekhti puts as much flesh as she can on a damaged femme fatale. Somehow there’s a nagging sense that a different edit is being screened in another room, one with far more emotional jeopardy. 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.

Overleaf: watch the trailer to Before the Winter Chill

There's a nagging sense that a different cut is being screened in another room, one with more emotional jeopardy


Editor Rating: 
Average: 3 (1 vote)

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Such a disappointing follow up to 'I've Loved You So Long' and I felt so sorry for the actors who had so little help in fleshing out their parts. The grizzly denouement seemed straight out of a Skandi series and could actually have ended up on the cutting room floor without spoiling the rest of the film. No wonder Kristin Scott Thomas wants to give up film making if gardening and worrying is all she is given to do.

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