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Before the Winter Chill (2 stars)

Discordant drama/thriller from Philippe Claudel, Starring Kristin Scott Thomas and Daniel Auteuil

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Before the Winter Chill

Writer/director Philippe Claudel enjoyed a successful collaboration with Kristin Scott Thomas in I've Loved You So Long, and they re-team for this domestic drama, in which a family crisis is somewhat awkwardly meshed with thriller elements.

In an accomplished cast of French performers, Scott Thomas plays Lucie, a bored housewife whose affluent surgeon husband Paul (Daniel Auteuil) believes that he's being stalked by a young Moroccan bartender called Lou (Leila Bekhti), who claims that Paul saved her life on the operating table. Annoyed by bunches of flowers regularly sent to his house, Paul confronts Lou when he spies her making an order in a florists. After being convinced that it's a case of mistaken identity, Paul reluctantly strikes up a chaste friendship with Lou, while Lucie finds herself the subject of romantic overtures by Paul's best friend Gerard (Richard Berry).

Whether Lucie and Paul can keep their marriage together is the central focus in Claudel's film; despite their affluence, their lives are portrayed as somewhat empty. But the final scenes of Before The Winter Chill lurch abruptly from a sophisticated domestic drama to a conventional thriller, with hidden motives revealed that cast a very different light on the story, and a somewhat baffling emphasis on minor characters.

Before the Winter Chill is a rather odd film: excellent performances, a convincing milieu, and then a final twist that seems so improbable that all Claudel's careful work seems undone. It's tricky to name the issue specifically without giving away the ending, but Claudel's sympathy for the predicament of his well-heeled characters seems to miss out on a bigger and more dramatic story and arch devices such as having the characters give each other music cassettes to express their finer feelings seems at odds with the rather brutal denouement.

GFT, Glasgow, Thu 27 Feb, as part of Glasgow Film Festival. On release from Fri 30 May.

Before the Winter Chill (Avant l'hiver)

  • 2 stars
  • 2013
  • France/Luxembourg
  • 103 min
  • 15
  • Directed by: Philippe Claudel
  • Cast: Daniel Auteuil, Kristin Scott Thomas, Leïla Bekhti
  • UK release: 9 May 2014

Lucie (Scott Thomas) is a bored, middle-class French housewife whose affluent surgeon husband Paul (Auteuil) seems to be being stalked by a young woman (Bekhti) who claims that he saved her life. Despite excellent performances and a convincing milieu, a bizarre and improbable twist in the plot undoes much of Claudel's…

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