In movies and on television, a sociopath - someone who doesn’t have real feelings or emotions - is usually depicted as a serial killer, or someone capable of great violence and horror against others. These people are evil because to have no emotion means not caring for anyone and that means doing whatever the hell you want. Un Coeur en Hiver (A Heart In Winter) is the rare film in which someone with sociopathic tendencies turns out to be a pretty nice guy.
This man, Stéphane (Daniel Auteuil), is a highly sought-out violin repairer. His partner Maxime (André Dussollier) is the businessman in the arrangement, able to wheel and deal and service the customers while the more private Stéphane goes about the business of repair work. Their partnership is a good one. They work together, they eat together, and play squash together. You might say they are friends. Stéphane wouldn’t because he doesn’t understand friendship, but their relationship is a cordial one.
Maxime begins dating Camille (Emmanuelle Béart) a talented violinist. She brings her instrument by the shop and finds Stéphane to be quite attentive to her. He comes to her rehearsals and buys her a drink. He compliments her playing. She falls for him. He tells her he cannot love. He is incapable of it. Maxime learns of this and fires Stéphane. But later he visits Stéphane’s shop and the two seem cordial once again.
These are the things that happen, but they are not what the story is about. The film is a character study of a man without feelings. A man who doesn’t love or hate. A man who says music is the stuff of dreams but everything else is just stuff. A man who despite this is not a psychopath. Late in the film, he admits he paid attention to Camille because he wanted to hurt Maxime, but then he thought better of it. He is honest with her in order to not hurt her feelings.
She doesn’t understand this. She lays her feelings out and is hurt when they are not returned. Maxime also is hurt. The only person who seems to understand him is Hélène (Elizabeth Bourgine), a friend who takes him for what he is and asks for nothing more.
Most romantic movies start with two people who are meant to be together but through circumstances spend most of the film apart. A Heart in Winter is about two people who should not be together trying to understand what that means, and how it feels. It is a very slow film. Very little of external consequences happen in its entire 105 minute run time. For the first 20 minutes, I was bored. I didn’t understand what was happening. But once I latched on to what it was doing, how it was exploring who this man was, I was fascinated. It is exquisitely acted. Both Auteuil and Béart give understated, subtle performances.
In a cinematic landscape filled with emotionless psychopaths, it is thrilling to see someone who doesn’t feel the same way we do yet still retains his humanity.
Kino Lorber presents A Heart in Winter with a 1.66:1 aspect ratio and a 1080p transfer rate. Extras include an audio commentary by film historian Kat Ellinger, the original theatrical trailer, and an essay Jonathan Rosenbaum in the booklet.