Sometimes when you sit down on a Sunday night you’re looking for a particular kind of diversion. For me, often, it’s pure entertainment. If I can watch a decent mystery, comedy, or action movie then I’m happy. Sometimes I need a laugh, sometimes a thrill, but it all amounts to the same thing. For those couple of hours I want to escape my world for the fantasy world on screen.
Other times – rarer for me – I’m looking for something more profound. I like to think, I like to be moved, but movies of that ilk are less common, and often on a Sunday night – the night before work – I don’t want to think too hard. Besides, I have books for that.
Last night was different. What it was I couldn’t say, but I felt the need for a deeper mode of entertainment. I wanted to be stretched, less so intellectually than emotionally. I wanted to feel, and in feeling to ponder the profound meaning of that feeling.
What I settled on was an old French movie, A Heart in Winter (Un Coeur en Hiver).
This is one of my favourite movies. It’s intelligent, artistic, and heart rending. It’s sat there on my movie queue for about 2 years, and though I’ve paused often at it, until last night I hadn’t clicked on it. Last night was just right though.
I don’t know how many times I’ve watched it now. About 4 or 5 I reckon. It came out in 1992, which seems an eternity ago now, and whether I saw it then or later I can’t recall. In my mind I group it together with other French movies of similar type and from around the same time, particularly those of Krzysztof Kieslowski (his Three Colours: Red, Blue, and Double Life of Veronique are also all time favourites I wish I could share with others).
A Heart in Winter is, like those other films, profoundly human. It deals in the fears and frailties, the hopes and delusions of common man. That’s the appeal of films like this when done well. You can watch these movies and recognise so much. As always in the best art you come to a truth of something you know deep inside, but which previously has not been raised to a conscious level. We live and operate with these truths just beneath the surface of our skin. They influence our behaviour without our conscious awareness. We are those things, but it’s rare we acknowledge or understand that.
A Heart in Winter happens to be thematically inspired by one of my favourite books, by Lermontov, A Hero of Our Time. It has an extra significance to me for that reason. I read that book at one sitting in the mid-nineties lying on a couch at my dad’s when he lived in Potts Point, having bought it at a local bookstore. I was drawn into the story and identified strongly with the main character, Pechorin. As in the movie, the book is intelligently done, and is the study of a flawed, but highly capable man.
The movie is heart-breaking, and the last forty minutes or so difficult viewing – but it goes beyond that. What could have been a mere drama of sorts goes further to become a tragedy of great human dimension. You recognise it though, or at least I do. You feel it inside you like an echo that doesn’t still until hours later. It makes you think, it makes you remember, and it makes you reflect on the more profound elements of being a human being.
That’s why I chose to watch it last night – I wanted to feel that again. You skate across the surface of things mostly. Life happens by rote and routine. The days and weeks gather up and pass by. Sometimes you remember there is more to existence than that. You recall that the most memorable moments of life are when you are forced to deeply feel something. You miss that. You wish for more of it, but don’t know how. But at least there is a movie there in your queue to experience it by proxy. It’s not enough, but it’ll do in a pinch.
One of the great things about this movie is the music in it. There are some great pieces, but none more so than Ravel’s Trio for Piano, Violin and Cello. I listen to it and it’s as if I experience it from the inside out. It seems to mirror human emotion, give musical expression to human frailty and hope. I’d just about do anything to have written something as beautiful and true as that. I can’t write music, but it’s what I try to do in my writing – give allegorical voice to a truth we can all come to understand. If I could achieve that, just once, I’d die a happy man.