Format: Video from The Magic Flashdrive on laptop.
As I near the temporary end of The List, I’ve started to think about all of the films I’ve watched for this in general. There have been, naturally, a ton of subtitled films in dozens of different languages. Of all, I’m pretty sure that French has been the language I’ve heard more than any other. There have been plenty of Italian, German, Japanese, and Russian films, of course, a few in Spanish, Dutch, Swedish, Arabic, and spots here and there in at least a dozen others. But France, with all of its influence on the national cinemas of countries around the world, got the largest number of films added. So it was a surprise when I discovered that Conte d’Hiver (A Tale of Winter) is one of the last French films I have remaining.
Our film opens with two characters experiencing a passionate affair over a summer. These two are Felicie (Charlotte Very) and Charles (Frederic van den Driessche). They part, promising to stay in touch. And in a moment, we leap ahead five years.
Five years after this summer tryst, we catch back up to Felicie. She is a hairdresser and has a young daughter, Elise (Ava Loraschi) from that remembered summer of sexual joy with Charles. Felicie has carried a torch for her lost lover since that time, but the fact that she hasn’t reconnected with him is her own fault—when he left to go to America for a job, she gave him an incorrect address, leaving him no way to locate her. As the main plot gets underway, we learn that Felicie is splitting her time between two men. There is the bookish Loic (Herve Furic) and her boss, Maxence (Michel Voletti). She doesn’t really love either of them, since she’s still carrying a torch for Charles, something that both of the men know.
The bulk of the film consists of Felicie vacillating between the two men. She likes Loic and doesn’t want to lose him as a friend, but decides to run off with Maxence to a smallish town in the country, but eventually she gets tired of this and returns to Paris.
The French name, Conte d’Hiver, is the same name as the French title of Shakespeare’s A Winter’s Tale. At one point in the middle, Felicie and Loic attend a performance of the play, and there’s a considerable portion of the play’s end displayed here. It’s not a play I know well, and I’m not entirely sure of the connection. There must be one, but my lack of knowledge of this end of Shakespeare leaves me unable to make that connection here.
I found this film quite frustrating for a number of reasons. First is Felicie herself. It’s evident that she is completely enamored not of Charles, but of the memory of Charles, and this continually sabotages every other relationship in her life. Both Loic and Maxence are aware of her infatuation with her past fling. She openly talks about her love of Charles and her much lesser love for the two of them. It’s a relationship style that I have trouble understanding. Perhaps I’m too possessive in this respect, or simply not French enough. If the woman I was sleeping with told me that she was more in love with a memory and wanted to talk about the sex she was having with another guy, I think I might be kind of offended by that.
And then there’s the reason that Felicie loses touch with Charles in the first place—she screws up her own address when she gives it to him, so he’s got no way to find her. And, since she never bothers to learn his last name, she has no way to get in touch with him. It’s kind of ridiculous, really—her own pain and unsatisfying life are caused by her own stupidity and foolishness. At least that’s one way to look at it. I choose to look at it another way, although it’s no more flattering than “Felicie is really dumb.” No, I like to think that she sabotaged this relationship intentionally.
That’s a bold statement, I know, but I think I can back it up. There’s a certain mindset that desires to be a part of that grand tragic romance—the exquisite pain of that tragic lost lover, forever separated, is a specific romantic ideal. By making Charles unable to reach her, by forcing a situation in which the two of them cannot be together, Felicie is forcing herself into a relationship that mimics that tragic romance, even if it was just a summer fling. It allows those couple of months of love and sex to be far more than they really are.
Really, I don’t have a great deal of sympathy for that. And with that in mind, or the simpler but less satisfying possibility that Felicie is just really dumb, the end is pretty unconscionable, and feels like a cheat.
Based on what I’ve seen of Rohmer, I liked him more when he was cynical and less when he mellowed. There’s nothing wrong with mellow, except when it takes the teeth out of a director’s work.
Why to watch Conte d’Hiver: At least there’s some Shakespeare in the middle.
Why not to watch: It’s hard to be compassionate regarding someone’s incompetence.