In the chic mid­win­ter

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - FILM - DON­ALD CLARKE

BE­FORE THE WIN­TER CHILL/ AVANT L’HIVER Di­rected by Philippe Claudel. Star­ring Daniel Au­teuil, Kristin Scott-Thomas, Leila Bekhti, Richard Berry Club, QFT, Belfast; IFI, Dublin, 98 min

Those of us just the tini­est bit weary of bour­geois French drama will hear faint alarm bells ring­ing when, in the open­ing sec­tions of Philippe Claudel’s third fea­ture, we catch sight of Kristin Scott-Thomas din­ing lan­guorously in her vast back gar­den.

Not for the first time, KST plays Lu­cie, the bored wife of a well-off mid­dle-aged some­body fac­ing up to a first-world cri­sis. Do we need to say that Daniel Au­teuil – now a bit heav­ier and a bit more Depar­dieu – plays the brain sur­geon un­happy with the happy life?

Be­fore the Win­ter Chill turns out to be both stranger and more fa­mil­iar than the ini­tial set-up sug­gests. We soon learn that Lu­cie’s hus­band, Paul, is the vic­tim of an ini­tially be­nign out­break of stalk­ing. Ev­ery day a bunch of red flow­ers is de­liv­ered anony­mously to house or surgery.

He soon fig­ures out the sender must be Lou (Leila Bekhti), a young woman who claims to have had her ap­pen­dix re­moved by him some years ear­lier (un­likely, given his spe­cial­ity, but still just about pos­si­ble). Then Lou makes ap­pear­ances in un­likely places. She at­tends the same opera recital as Paul. She vis­its the psy­chi­a­trist who shares his of­fice. He spots her among other sex work­ers on the out­skirts of town.

The pres­ence of Au­teuil in the cast and the hints at post-colo­nial angst – his stalker is of North African de­scent – ren­der un­help­ful com­par­isons with Michael Haneke’s Caché un­avoid­able. Be­fore the

Win­ter Chill is not nearly so oblique, nor so sin­is­ter, but it has a sleek ten­sion to it that makes the skin crawl.

The prin­ci­pals’ lux­u­ri­ous life is de­tailed with a chilly pre­ci­sion that proves prop­erly alien­at­ing and un­nerv­ing. Au­teuil breaks up with con­vic­tion. KST au­topi­lots her way through jeal­ous fer­ment with ex­pected ef­fi­ciency.

Ul­ti­mately, the film is, how­ever, morally and struc­turally un­sat­is­fac­tory. The un­der­de­vel­oped Lou is al­lowed to be lit­tle more than a road-bump im­ped­ing the posh char­ac­ters steady progress, and a fi­nal lu­di­crous re­veal drags us from high-end art cin­ema to the world of Mid­somer Mur­ders. Classy, for all that.

Kristin Scott Thomas: no one does jeal­ous fer­ment like KST

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