Before The Winter Chill Review
What’s It About? Director Philippe Claudel’s French-language film Avant l’hiver (Before The Winter Chill) scripts English ex-pat Lucie (Kristen Scott Thomas) as the wife of neurosurgeon husband Paul (Daniel Auteuil), made suspicious after a third-party jolts their seemingly blissful marriage. Paul is highly successful and respected in his profession, but suffers a breakdown of sorts when former patient Lou (Leïla Bekhti) sends him roses. Baffled by the floral tributes, Paul takes a sabbatical from work to reconsider his life, much to the distress of his wife. In a slow cooking thriller, Paul attempts to decipher the meaning behind the roses that threaten his marriage – are they a memento from a crazed stalker, or a stranger’s token of love?
Verdict: Before The Winter Chill is a crossbreed of Hidden and Looking For Hortense, using a combination of storyline and cast from both films – and fractured marital relationships with a sense of doom could categorise, to an extent, all three pictures. Claudel directs a thriller that focuses, ironically at times, on the bourgeois couple Paul and Lucie. And the irking delivery of red roses creeps a sense of threat to the marriage – deliberately executed by Claudel who masquerades the true intentions of the benefactor. The ambiguity behind Lou’s motivation permits Claudel to drive forward tense sequences, depicting a life spinning out of control.
On paper, Before The Winter Chill subjects a middle-class, middle-aged couple disrupted by a peculiar intruder. Yet impressively, Claudel’s cinematography combats a deliberately mundane storyline to deliver intriguing results. The bland blend of later-life revaluation, roving eyes and philandering has been done before, but Before The Winter Chill is a drama remaining powerfully gripping throughout. The detachment and isolation of Paul and Lucie is depicted in Claudel’s judgment to film from distance, using the house as a window for voyeurs to peer through. Keeping the audience at length makes for an ambiguous, emotionally disconnected film that may irritate audiences, but Claudel expertly correlates this to the restlessness of Paul and his decision to lead a double life. Akin to the viewers of Before The Winter Chill, Lucie is left to guess at the thoughts and motivations of her husband Paul, to whom she has been married to for decades. In turn, this emotionally detached film tunes in audiences to recognise that one can never know the true consciousness of another – particularly when a decision is made to apply a masquerade to one’s life.
Before The Winter Chill aims for neutrality, permitting the forging of one’s own opinion on Paul’s stimulus for adultery – be it intrigue, curiosity or passion for younger flesh. And Andrew Dziedzuk’s score beautifully complements Claudel’s directorship, as the duo avoid sentimental manipulation and demand the audience use intelligence to interpret an unfolding story. While undoubtedly deserving credit for incisive cinematography, the picture falls flat due to a pervading ambiguity that often proves simply too confusing. Unfortunately Claudel pollutes the narrative with overindulgence for bewildering twists and puzzling dynamics. There’s evidently a profound meaning, a typical symptom of French cinema, but this intricate film has one layer too many.
Final Words: Powerful acting and an outstanding score is regrettably undermined by the many philosophies on Claudel’s table.