What comes to mind when one hears of a love triangle? What about unrequited love? Hearts suffering with love? The real challenge is presenting the two without giving in to the template. French director-writer, Claude Sautet, has presented a delicate treatment in his 1992 Cesar Award winner, Un Coeur en Hiver (A Heart in Winter).
Stephane (Daniel Auteuil) and Maxim (Andre Dussollier) are long-time business partners who restore and fix violins. As proclaimed by Stephane in the opening voiceover of the film, they are just "partners" and not "friends". He thinks that they merely complement each other and are together because of "mutual interest" and that's it. In a way, the claim wasn’t entirely untrue. The two indeed shared a symbiotic relationship. They were just two men, living in perfect synchronization with each other.
Maxime, the boss, whose work is to get clients, gets along well with people. On the other hand, Stephane is an expert with violins, and enjoys the company of musical instruments. One night, Maxime, who is married, introduces Camille (Emmanuelle Beart) to Stephane as his partner and expresses his absolute love and admiration for her. Stephane, however, shows a lack of an emotional response to it, which later on in the film comes to be known as his only type of response towards anything.
Camille, who mostly remains guarded but expresses most and best through music, is a gifted and disciplined violinist. She walks wrapped in a cloak of mystery, but to her, Stephane is somewhat of an enigma himself. His cold, distant demeanor and close-to-repulsive nature become what draws her to him. Despite being in a relationship with Maxime, she acts on the pull and professes her love in front of Stephane, and to her disappointment, gets rejected as he states plainly that he is just incapable of loving another human being.
The question arises, is it even possible to be incapable of loving another person? Is this a common phenomenon, a mere excuse or a genuine issue? The film offers no giveaway regarding which is the case. As far as Stephane’s wintry heart or as the title suggests, A Heart in Winter is concerned, Sautet’s directorial approach is least judgmental and astounding in the way that he kept the complexities of the heart sacred. Being patient, not merely looking for the cure.
On the surface level, it might seem like a story of three people caught in an awkward romantic triangle; which it is, but the way Sautet has exposed the blind spots in each one of us, to the various ambiguities of the human heart has made the film a remarkable feat in itself.