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Review: “A Heart in Winter”

Un Coeur en Hiver (A Heart in Winter)

Movie reviewed by
Elizabeth Wagele
(First appeared in the Enneagram Educator, 1997)

1992, directed by Claude Sautet; Daniel Auteuil as Stephan, Andre Dusollier as Maxim, Emmanuelle Baert as Camille.

In the opening scene, when Stephan, a master violin maker, removes the top of the instrument he’s working on and we see it as an empty, coffin-like box, I guess he’s the person referred to in the title, A Heart in Winter.  Right away Iím curious and I’m hooked by the music and the artful cinematography. Openings and closings – of doors, windows, hearts, minds, and relationships – are the motifs in this film. When Stephan is working close to his apprentice, the depth of field seems shallow and the room appears crowded. When he’s working alone, the same room appears spacious. The Five is relaxed and comfortable when left to himself.

I often wonder about certain Fives – whether they’re incapable of feeling or their feelings are stuck inside. As a Five with a strong Four wing, my feelings sometimes seem too powerful or precious to let out. Watching this movie, I wonder what other people – the makers of this film and the audience – think of Stephan (and of all of us Fives). In our Three-ish, extraverted society we’re often seen as alien or unfriendly and dismissed for it. Whether accurate or not, this perception of ours accounts in large part for our defensive, negative, and nihilistic attitudes. I like it that Stephan is taken seriously – the film makers are really interested in him.

Maxim, Stephan’s business partner, is a quiet and laid back Nine-ish Three. He says he accepts Stephan as he is, but he lives his life so differently it’s hard to believe. Socially adept, he’s good at finding clients and he likes to bask in their limelight. His role is to put the musicians at ease, attend their concerts, and become moved to tears by their playing. He’s vigorous, at home in his body, tells lies easily when he has to, and tries to impress. When a prospective client is worried he’ll have to pay a commission, Maxim thinks quickly and assures him that he won’t – just a “valuation fee.” When work needs to be done on a violin, he turns the client over to Stephan. Itís a tremendous responsibility and honor to take care of these venerable instruments, but Stephan remains mostly in the background. His intimacy both with people and violins is usually short-term. He takes his friends in small doses; making a whole violin only takes a month.

Maxim assumes they have a friendship, but Stephan insists they’re only using each other for business purposes. It’s difficult for a Five to have a relationship with someone who’s so gracious and at ease. Maxim’s name suggests superiority – and we Fives can’t stand the implication that we’re inferior. For a guy who thinks he’s in control of his feelings, Stephan seems awfully hurt that Maxim isn’t interested in what Stephan does with his life after hours. Since he hasn’t put Maxim in the box labeled “friend”, Stephan can rationalize that Maxim doesn’t matter  – but he does. (I’ve used the defense of “I don’t care” many times when it wasn’t true.) Stephan’s claim that he’s not interested in himself isn’t true either.

One day in a cafe Maxim points out their new client, Camille – a violinist he’s fallen in love with. His attitude about leaving his wife for her is callously nonchalant. Camille has an otherworldly, delicate, pale look about her, and neat, pulled back dark hair. She’s reserved. When Maxim announces “something important has happened to me,” Stephan is obviously disappointed that he waited two months to tell him. Maxim explains his attraction to Camille this way: once she was late to meet him. When she finally showed up, she gazed around with such a worried and helpless look that he realized it was “possible to love someone.” I see her as a relational (or sexual) “strength and beauty” subtype Six with a Five wing. She uses her vulnerability to assure that she’ll be protected.

All three of these characters studied the violin with Louis Lachaume, a likable elderly man who lives retired in the country with a Two-ish woman. A lot of happy children chase around them. He remembers Camille as a smooth and hard little girl who kept her distance, but underneath had quite a temper. Lachaume thinks Stephan is fortunate to never be bored. He keeps the fact that he’s dying a secret while Stephan tries to keep his own aliveness a secret. But we can see it when he’s with Lachaume: his eyebrows become relaxed – he even raises them expressively a couple of times. His face is looser and he smiles more broadly (though it’s never a full smile like Maxim’s). Normally, Stephan is closed and unreadable. However, his intensity belies his feelings.

The fourth primary character in A Heart in Winter is the music, all by Ravel – a violin/piano sonata, a violin/cello sonata and a trio – with Camille performing the violin part. We attend at least six of her rehearsals and recording sessions briefly. Phrases of music overlap the rondo-like story line, a technique which helps to move the film along – I wasn’t bored for a second. The music accompanying the beginning credits is passionate, delicate, tumultuous, and mysterious, a taste of some of the musical and nonmusical themes to follow. Next we hear the incongruous grating and squeaking of a violin being repaired – from sublime to down-to-earth. As someone who turned to music early in life myself, I often wonder what affect this has had on my relationships. Music can satisfy one’s emotional needs or seem to. And, unlike humans, it doesn’t fight back. Stephan connects more to music than to people and Camille is a violinist above all else (hormones willing). In Stephan, I think she’s attracted to what reminds her of herself – for instance, his perfectionism and distancing – and perhaps the permission to be as quiet and autonomous as he is. They’re both exceptional at what they do, thus different from nearly everyone else. She’s attracted to his inner world and he’s attracted to venturing out a bit from his – and her beauty.

Camille observes Stephan teaching his apprentice when he doesn’t know she’s there. He’s kind, gentle, and encouraging to the young man (who looks a little like him) – not too frightened to express his feeling side in this situation. The apprentice leaves and Stephan invites Camille into his private space (he lives in the shop) to wait for Maxim. They soon find common Five-ish ground, agreeing that it’s a nuisance to be dependent or beholden to anyone, and that people are often more of a hindrance than a help. When Maxim enters the room and says, “So you’ve seen where he lives. Spartan, isn’t it?” she doesn’t agree.

Stephan attends the first rehearsal. His intense stare so unnerves Camille that she stumbles and has to start over several times, so he leaves. His hand and the camera linger on the outside door lock, out of her sight, as she starts over and this time breezes through the passage that had given her trouble. His expression is smug – he’s pleased he’s had an affect on her.

When Stephan repairs Camille’s violin, she’s completely satisfied with his work, but he later thinks of a way to make the tone clearer. Since such a genius isn’t likely to overlook anything, his unconscious probably kept him from completing the job as a way to make contact again. He offers to do the work during a rehearsal, thus becoming part of her performance.

Maxim shows Stephan the apartment he’s having fixed up for him and Camille to move into. Stephan kind of blacks out and has to sit down. He uses the excuse that it’s the paint fumes, but we and Maxim know better – he’s having a feeling attack. Then he does what I would do or want to do when I’m scared – he hides. Camille can’t understand his disappearing act and when she sees him a few days later she asks him why he’s been hiding from her. She criticizes him for belittling everything, for trying to give himself a bad image, for having no imagination, and for acting as if emotions don’t exist (“…though you like music”). Sixes sometimes scold people when a softer approach would be more effective.

Camille plays passionately in the last recording session (an elderly man in the audience declares he hasn’t been so moved in ages). Maxim is out of town for the third time, wheeling and dealing, so he has sent Stephan to take his place. Camille is radiant after the performance. She gets in his car, tells him she’s never played like that before – it was for him – and declares her love. Sixes often assume others see things the way they do – she’s sure he’s in love with her too but she hasn’t really checked it out. The few cues have been on the subtle side. He panics and drives like crazy to outrun her, but she’s in the car with him. Then he clobbers her under the typically Five-ish guise of objectivity, truthfulness, and reasonableness: “I don’t love you. You’re talking about feelings I don’t have. You want me to be who you think I am – another person.” When she tells him to stop lying to himself, he bickers over the meaning of a word, an argumentative technique very familiar to me (my husband and I are both Fives). Camille often seems like a little girl who’s used to being protected and she’s really hurt when she realizes her love has been thwarted.

The shock of Maxim punching him in the face and Camille screaming at him in public helps bring a new sense of reality and responsibility to Stephan. The next day he tells Camille she was right, that “there’s something lifeless inside me.” He admits he’s always there too late, that he lost his chance with her, and that he’s lost Maxim. “I know I’m not nothing; I like my work and I’m good at it,” he confesses. “I don’t destroy others, I destroy myself.” While Stephan thaws out a bit, Camille becomes distant and sarcastic.
This is a wonderfully constructed movie that dignifies its subject. If Stephan had consistently been shown the affection and caring as a child that the film makers put into this movie, I thought to myself, he might not have turned out so neurotic. Stephan grows more confident (going toward Eight) and trusting. He takes charge of his life by opening his own shop, taking the apprentice and some of the clients with him. Light shines onto his new attractive and roomy work area through skylights. After an eight and a half month gestation period, Stephan meets Maxim and Camille in a cafe. He tells Camille he had thought the only person he ever loved was Lachaume but is now able to admit that he also loved her and it wasn’t just a game. We watch Stephan look out through the cafe’s reflecting window into Maxim’s car window, window piled on window in the fashion of the stretto of a fugue, as Maxim and Camille drive away. Camille looks back at Stephan. As the music from the opening scene returns, I recall Stephan disassembling the precious violin, exposing its interior to light, and applying fresh glue. Now he’s been strengthened too.

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