A Few Hours of Spring (Quelques Heures de Printemps): Film Review
Poignant family story let down by painfully slow and muted delivery.
An emotionally inarticulate man and his elderly mother face up to impending tragedy in this chilly domestic drama from the French writer-director Stéphane Brizé. Mostly composed of naturalistic conversations and mundane suburban vignettes, the meat of the story initially appears to be about strained family ties, only to shift midway through into a bleak docu-drama about assisted suicide.
Brizé previously earned modest acclaim for his similarly downbeat meditations on midlife angst, Not Here To Be Loved and Mademoiselle Chambon. He cites the Dardennes, Ken Loach and Lars Von Trier as influences, and there is a hint of Michael Haneke’s clinical eye in his dispassionate style too. But while A Few Hours of Spring is unquestionably a crafted and serious piece of work, it lacks the emotional bite or stylistic boldness of these superior directors. Glacially slow and forbiddingly sombre, this mournful meditation on mortality will most likely struggle to attract foreign audiences after making its North American debut in Toronto next week.
A Few Hours of Spring reunites Brizé with his Mademoiselle Chambon star Vincent Lindon, who spends much of the film brooding silently on his relentlessly grim fate. Lindon plays 48-year-old Alain, a former truck driver recently released from jail after serving 18 months for his minor role in a drug-smuggling operation. Broke, unemployable and depressed, his only option is to move back in with his ageing mother Yvette (Vincent) in her working-class suburban home.
But tensions soon surface as Alain’s uncouth, short-tempered nature clashes with Yvette’s long-established domestic routine. He reverts to playing the sulky teenager, and she the controlling mother. The film’s few moments of discreet comic tension arise during these scenes, which include a wordless showdown over TV volume levels, and a custody battle over a pet dog which ends with a darkly funny poisoning incident.
First impressions suggest A Few Hours of Spring will be a social-realist character study centred on Alain’s attempts to rebuild his life, find work and redeem himself through a budding romance with young divorcee Clémence (Seigneur). But a subtle dramatic gear-change occurs as we slowly learn that treatment on Yvette’s inoperable brain tumor has failed, and she is finalizing plans to end her life via a legal assisted-suicide company across the border in Switzerland. On discovering this, Alain grudgingly attempts to contain his temper and finally make amends as a dutiful son.
A Few Hours of Spring is full of quality ingredients, from subtle performances to the unobtrusive score by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis, but the finished dish still feels undercooked. Although the muted tone is clearly a dramatic necessity, it does not exactly lend itself to audience engagement. The director remains a detached observer throughout, offering no psychological insight into protagonists who remain locked into their emotional straitjackets right up until the wrenching final scene. The plot, especially in its latter stages, settles for being a bald procedural just a few degrees away from verité documentary. For all its serious intentions, Brizé’s oddly muted tragedy ultimately proves as sullen and deep-frozen as his characters.
Venue: Locarno Film Festival screening, August 3
Production companies: TS Productions, Arte France, F Comme
Cast: Vincent Lindon, Vincent, Emmanuelle Seigner, Olivier Perrier
Director: Stéphane Brizé
Producers: Milena Pylo, Gilles Sacuto
Writers: Stéphane Brizé, Florence Vignon
Cinematography: Antoine Héberlé
Editor: Anne Klotz
Music: Nick Cave, Warren Ellis
Sales company: Rezo Films
Rating TBC, 108 minutes