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2014年3月30日 星期日

Avant l'hiver (Before the Winter Chill 冬日危情)

My second film at the HKIFF is a thriller which may be more than a mere thriller" Avant l'hiver(Before the Winter Chill) (冬日危情 ). Paul (Daniel Auteil) an amiable neurosurgeon who is head of the neurosurgical unit and a 60'ish professor of a French medical school with a busy practice at a French hospital who lives with his a wife, Lucie, an expert gardener Lucie (Kristin Scott Thomas) at a beautiful suburban house with a huge garden suddenly starts to receives bunches of roses first at the hospital and then at his house. The roses do not come with any name card! He first wonders why and then gets annoyed. His apparently busy and smooth running life is soon thrown into turmoil. He finally starts to find out who's behind it all those mysterious roses and sees a young lady Lou (Leïla Bekhti) who works at a café close to the hospital that he frequents (who once told him that she was one of his former appendicitis patients when she was a child) buying exactly the same kind of roses that he has been receiving, rushes up to her and yells at her that she should stop annoying him with her flowers and seizes the bouquet that she then has in her hands, and throws them on the ground in a rage but is met with an expression of complete puzzlement and hurt. He feels sorry. The following day, he goes to the café and offers an apology. They got talking. She tells him that she's Lou, a third year art student at the university who practically lives in the paintings she sees in the museums and that her family originally came from Morocco but since an early age, she's been an orphan, her father having left her when she was a child, shortly after which her mother remarried a Texan and emigrated to America but apart from sending her monthly remittances never really cares about her. He feels much better after talking to her. He gives him telephone number and says that he can call her if he wants to.


We are next shown Paul going to a concert with Lucie. By accident, he finds Lou amongst the audience. The following day,  whilst making his rounds with a train of housemen behind him, one of his patients who is to have an operation the following day asked him if she could speak with him alone. He signalled his students to leave, sat on her bed, holding her hand. The old lady told him what she never told anyone in France viz. that she originally came from Poland, never married, never had any children and had no relatives in France and that her father, her mother, her brother and her sister were all killed by the Germans in 1942. She told him their name and ask him to remember them, saying that if anything were to happen to her the next day, then no one would have known that they existed at all. He repeats their name to her. She seems happy. In the middle of the operation the following day, right in the middle of operation, Paul's mind suddenly goes blank. Fortunately, his assistant, a former student and now his colleague takes over and his patient survives. He is advised by his friend and head of the hospital to take a 6 month vacation and then come back. He does. Bored at home with nothing to do except to help walk his son's daughter in her pram in the park from time to time, he begins to see the girl more often. They take walks, talk and go to a museum together. He feels comfortable talking with her about nothing in particular. He seems to want nothing from her except to talk.

One day, whilst driving home, he finds the road blocked because of some road works and he is forced to take a detour and drives by a park with hookers at the kerbside. To his surprise, he he finds Lou. She drives away. He follows her to a junkyard. She is angry he follows her and Paul got beaten up by a hoodlum there. He is curious. Days later, he drives to the same spot and again finds her there. He stops his car. They got talking. Lou tells him that although his mother sends her money, she never touches it and that to support herself, she becomes a part time hooker. He says nothing.

Then one day, whilst they were having one of their talks, she asks him if he wants to go to bed with her. He declines. She is hurt and says crying that they should never meet again. He lets her go. But he could not get her out of his mind. He starts to go to the university student's office to ask for details about Lou but is told that the university has ceased offering art courses 3 years ago. Intrigued, he searches on the internet and finally manages to get her address. He pays her a visit at a crummy apartment house. She refuses to let him in. He begs her and says that he would just stay a few minutes. She reluctantly agrees. He tells her that with her, he can talk about everything. She looks at him and says that she would like to give him a gift before he leaves. She fumbles in her handbag, takes out an old cassette tape. She plays it for him. It's a recording of a song her grandmother teaches her when she was a child about two lovers and a poppy which eventually find itself on the chest of a girl with 3 drops of blood on it. She says that it's the purest thing in her life, the only thing which keeps her alive and gives her strength. The following day. Paul got a telephone call from the police. They took him to her apartment. There he finds the girl in a bathtub, her wrist slit, blood dripping all over the place. The police asks him if he knows the girl. He says he does. They told him that she has deleted all telephone numbers in her address book except Paul's. They ask him if he had sex with her. He says no. They show him all kinds of photographs of nude men in blood amongst her personal effects and tell him he's free to go and that he's that close to being one of her victims.In fact, she is one of the patients of Gerard, his best friend Gerard, his school mate and now a psychiatrist at the same hospital and his regular tennis partner. Although Paul pressed Gerard to tell him what's wrong with the girl, he steadfastly refused to reveal to him what ails the girl, standing on his professional confidentiality. Paul is pissed but there's nothing he can do.

On the face of it, it's just a psychological thriller. But Philippe Claudel, a novelist turned director seems to want to say something more, the values of middle class life. Paul and Lucie seems an ideal couple, married 30 years, their son grown up, successful and married and apparently the envy of all their friends. But are they all happily married?  Paul tells his daughter in law, who seems rather unhappy, that if she doesn't like his son, an egoistic investment banker full of himself and always trying to show off, she should consider leaving him and that he would understand. She didn't do that, preferring to keep up appearances.  His relations with Lucie too, has grown distant. Although she appears a perfectly courteous and understanding wife, any real sentiments between them had dried up. He finds that they got nothing to say to each other any more, linked only by their common history and their family bond, little more. Lucie's sister is a nervous wrack and has to live in an institution. When they go visit her, they got little to say to each other. It was obvious that the visit was purely formal. During a talk at a bar, Paul asked Gerard, now a psychiatrist at the same hospital if he were given his wish what he'd most honestly want to do. Gerard says he'd take Lucie away from Paul. Paul doesn't say anything. But again, he does nothing about it because it's bad form although whenever Lucie wants somebody to talk, she always goes to him.  At the end of the film, when Lucie and Paul are having one of their parties in his garden celebrating his return to work, when they are talking about how long they've known each other and Lucie and Lucie asks them whether they remember when it was that they first met, Gerard was able to tell but not Paul, who retired to the sitting room, took out the cassette Lou gave him and listened to it. Lucie comes in a little later, finding Paul listening to it alone. The film ends. As Paul tells Gerard, during that bar talk, he too was an orphan, living only with his mother and he only took medicine upon advice of those around him but never really thought about what it was that he really wanted from life: too busy to fulfill what society and good sense dictates. Perhaps, only Lou jerk him from his smug middle class routine and make him think again what life is all about?  Whatever the truth may be, the photography was beautiful. So is the music.  And Daniel Auteil was superb in his role!