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Related Article: Music of a Frozen Heart: Love and Disharmony in Un Coeur en Hiver, featured in Issue No. 10 of Senses of Cinema.

Les choses de la vie, 1969
[The Things of Life]

PiccoliAn early episode in Les choses de la vie shows a young man, Bertrand Bérard (Gérard Lartigau), politely demonstrating to his attentive father Pierre (Michel Piccoli) his latest novelty invention: an electronic bird call sound synthesizer that is programmable to a variety of frequency settings. Pierre appears skeptical of the potential market for such an artificial and seeming impersonal "pet" device, but Bertrand explains that the product popularity is unexpectedly high, fueled in part by people who prefer the constancy of ambient sound of birds in the household, but without the demands of daily attention, feeding, and ancillary responsibilities associated with the care of real, live birds. The explanation would invariably prove to be a reflection of the unresolved state of Pierre's personal relationships as well. As the film opens, a badly injured Pierre, drifting into and out of consciousness, is rushed to the hospital after being ejected from his sports car following a high velocity crash. Recalling episodes from days leading up to the accident that reveal Pierre's strained, but passionate relationship with his beautiful, young mistress, Hélène (Romy Schneider), and his devoted, understanding wife, Catherine (Léa Massari), the film then alternates between past and present - reconstructing, like the police traffic investigation that proceeds in the aftermath of the accident - the seemingly mundane fragments of his inextricable romantic entanglements.

Claude Sautet creates an understatedly haunting, sophisticated, and insightful portrait of emotional attachment, indecision, and intimacy in Les choses de la vie. Structuring the narrative of the film in medias res as the middle-aged protagonist is transported to the hospital, Sautet figuratively reflects Pierre's emotional uncertainty as he struggles with the inertia of commitment and a new life with Hélène, unable to sever the bonds of common history associated with his failed marriage to Catherine: Hélène's self-imposed exclusion (and unshared family memories) from the Bérard island home in Ré; Pierre's procrastination over a visa application for a long-term business trip to Tunisia; his fixated preoccupation with a damaged table in the summer house; his impulsively written, unaddressed letter to Hélène that reveals his innate ambivalence. Inevitably, as Pierre unconsciously ponders his unfinished household tasks - the trivial "things of life" that bind him to his estranged family - what is revealed is a resigned longing for a lifetime of irretrievable memories and an irreconcilable sentiment of profound regret.

© Acquarello 2003. All rights reserved.

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Vincent, François, Paul et les Autres, 1974
[Vincent, François, Paul and the Others]

Depardieu/Montand/Piccoli/ReggianiSomewhere between the idealism of youth and the nostalgia of old age lies regret, and it is at this life's juncture that we find three lifelong friends in Claude Sautet's poignant film, Vincent, François, Paul and the Others. Every Sunday, friends and family congregate at Paul (Serge Reggiani) and Julia's (Antonella Lualdi) house in the country, where they leisurely dine, walk through the fields, play sports, and above all, enjoy each other's company. Paul is a writer whose dreams of authoring a literary novel remain elusive, and instead finds himself collaborating on human interest stories. Vincent (Yves Montand), the owner of a precision machine shop, has mortgaged his business in order to acquire new equipment, and is in danger of bankruptcy. François (Michel Piccoli) has a thriving medical practice in the city, and seeks refuge from his troubled marriage to Lucie (Marie Dubois) by immersing himself in his work.

Vincent has been separated from his wife Catherine (Stephane Audran) for two years, and one day, at the country house, she telephones him to ask for a divorce. It is an unexpected turn of events for Vincent, who, despite his open affair with a younger woman, clearly still loves her and is deeply affected by her decision to end their marriage. When an unexpected financial crisis arises, Vincent and his protégé, Jean (Gerard Depardieu), a struggling boxer, visit the creditors in an unsuccessful attempt to postpone payment. With no one left to turn to, Vincent visits Catherine for comfort and reassurance. Inevitably, Vincent realizes that his business problems are unimportant. The more pressing issue is how to win back the alienated affections of a woman whom he had deeply hurt.

Similar to Vincent and Catherine, François is equally burdened with the knowledge of a failing marriage. Looking out from the window of his examination room, François watches with wounded, resigned detachment as his wife Lucie meets with one of her nameless lovers in front of their house for an appointed rendezvous. Despite the humiliation, François still finds their tenuous relationship to be a consolatory alternative to being alone. However, the growing distance between François and Lucie proves to be irreparable. Gradually, François retreats into an unspoken emotional isolation.

At the core of the film lies in the unresolved nature of relationships. In Un Coeur en Hiver, personal inhibition and fear of rejection prevent the characters from validating their palpable emotional connection. Similarly, Vincent finds himself unable to express his regret at losing Catherine. In an understated, yet shattering scene, Vincent attempts to reconcile with Catherine at a cafe: he nervously looks down, fumbles with his glass and cigarette, trivializes his failed business. But inevitably, he can only look away and drink in silence. Vincent, François, Paul and the Others is an astute commentary on the spectrum of human emotion - a profound, yet deceptively lyrical portrait of failed dreams and loves, longing and regret, friendship and loneliness.

© Acquarello 2000. All rights reserved.

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Un Coeur en hiver, 1992
[A Heart in Winter]

Auteuil/BeartUn Coeur en Hiver is a sublimely sensual and sophisticated love story. Camille, a concert violinist (Emmanuelle Beart) is intrigued by her lover Maxim's (Andre Dussollier) business partner, Stephane (Daniel Auteuil). Stephane is a methodical repairer of fine musical instruments. He is precise in his craft, silent, and enigmatic. Noticing a string buzz on her violin shortly before a scheduled recording, she takes her instrument to Stephane, who listens intently, and quickly repairs the problem. Stephane appears genuinely interested in her music, although he is evasive and obscure. Camille interprets his distance as a sign of gradual, intellectual seduction. But Stephane has a characteristic defect. He is a social voyeur - observing people around him, listening quietly to their life stories - yet is incapable of emotional intimacy. The tenuous relationship that develops around the characters is compelling to watch. This is a powerfully subdued and provocative film about the complexity, and imperfection, of human relationships.

Claude Sautet's use of the musical trio is a dynamic element thematic development of Un Coeur en Hiver. Within the framework of the trio is a symbiotic relationship: alone, each is incomplete. As Maxim relies on Stephane for his livelihood, Stephane lives vicariously through Maxim. Their relationship provides him some semblance of intimacy without the emotional toll or commitment. As in François Truffaut's Jules and Jim, it is symbolic of a triadic "affair" that develops. The selection of Ravel's Trio suits the film's lyrical beginning, discordant revelation, and threnodic conclusion. It is a pensive film that seduces the mind, and exhilarates the senses.

© Acquarello 1998. All rights reserved.

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