With the acting chops of Kristin Scott Thomas and Daniel Auteuil in the leads Before the Winter Chill (Avant l’hiver the more poetic French title) also has the merit of being a Philippe Claudel film. His I Loved You So Long won a BAFTA and this reunites him with his former muse Scott Thomas who plays Lucie, a housewife and grandmother who suspects her husband Paul (Auteuil) of having an affair.
From the pre-title scene the audience is made aware that something somewhere has gone terribly wrong and this sense of foreboding and disquiet stays remains for the duration of the film. Paul is a neurosurgeon who works long hours, his wife feels neglected and distant from him and they live in a plush house in the countryside with their son, a rich banker, an infrequent visitor. With their privileged lives it’s hard to feel sorry for them in a real sense when their lives start to move into crisis.
Claudel, originally a novelist, skilfully leaves you wondering at many points about which characters are in their right minds and which might be losing the plot. I found myself veering between unnerved and wondering why should I care about these rich middle class people and their crisis of the soul? I was left with a host of big questions whirring around my brain a day later. This is what Claudel is so good at; making you feel deeply about what the lives of his characters and relating it to your own experience.
With more of a theatrical feel than a cinematic delight there are still some beautiful scenes of mist and parks of golden leaves; that sense of nostalgia in an autumn setting and this perfectly reflects the themes of the film. How can you have existed if no one knows your story? Who will remember you and how?
The character of Lou (Leila Bekhti playing a disturbed ingénue) that Paul finds himself involved with is a young woman with no family whose story is repeated in other characters; absent parents, faraway homelands, what it means to feel like a stranger in your own life.
See! I am getting all philosophical and that for me is why this is not just what it appears to be at first glance, a “typical” French film full of angst and silence. Yet again Philippe Claudel has created a thoughtful piece of storytelling which is worth not just one watch but several even if just for the spectacle of Kristin Scott Thomas acting everyone else off the screen.
Before the Winter Chill is out on limited release in the UK on 9th May.