2 Autumns, 3 Winters: Film Review

"2 Autumns, 3 Winters."
Style outshines substance in this well-acted French indie.

Sebastien Betbeder's indie dramedy premiered in the Cannes ACID sidebar, where it was picked up for U.S. release by Film Movement.

CANNES -- A quirky French indie that gets by more on style and sass than on its storytelling skills, writer-director Sebastien Betbeder’s 2 Autumns, 3 Winters (2 Automnes 3 Hivers) follows the travails of three 30-something Parisians suffering through the usual love squabbles and existential crises, not to mention some major medical malfunctions that are fairly uncommon for such a low-key kind of dramedy. With endearing performances and crafty 16mm imagery, but also a tad too many winks to the camera, this Cannes ACID sidebar selection should see additional fest and niche art-house play, including an upcoming stateside release from Film Movement.

One of several Cannes features starring indelible Gallic actor Vincent Macaigne (Age of Panic), Betbeder’s sophomore effort – following 2012’s TV-made Nights with Theodore – has both the whimsical, free-form feel (as well as the hospital setting) of Valerie Donzelli’s Declaration of War, and the nonchalant bourgeois musings of Joe Swanberg or Andrew Bujalski, tracking the itinerant lives of three former art students as they hook up, break up and somewhat fall apart in the City of Lights.

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Divided into dozens of brief chapters – which often give the impression of watching a string of short films instead of an actual feature – the story begins with good-natured loser, Arman (Macaigne) and stone-faced beauty, Amelie (Maud Wyler, Low Life) literally bumping into one another during a morning jog. We then follow each of them separately until destiny, in the form of a rather phony late-night mugging, brings them together once again, and this time for what could be the long run.

Meanwhile, Arman’s art school buddy, Benjamin (Bastien Bouillon, The Players), suffers from a stroke that causes him to be laid up for weeks in the hospital, in an inspired turn of events that adds substance to what’s otherwise a fairly standard tale of the post-grad blues. Eventually, Benjamin recovers and falls for his physical therapist, Katia (Audrey Bastien), and for a moment the two couples seem to be headed for a bright future, until reality – and another unexpected medical event – comes back to bite them.

Filled with oodles of visual flourishes, including a mix of grainy 16mm and HD cinematography (by Sylvain Verdet) and nonstop moody music by French singer-songwriter Bertrand Betsch, 2 Autumns often lets its cute and eccentric stylings get in the way of the story itself, which, once you strip away all the accouterments, feels rather underdeveloped.

Where Betbeder does succeed is in some of the pared-down scenes involving the uber-talented Macaigne, whose nervous but touching performance—especially during an extended dinner sequence—reveals much more about his character than all the voice-overs and camera lens confessions. Likewise, Wyler manages to turn the loosely sketched Amelie into an intriguing sort of muse, although the film’s mostly male-centric point of view tends to keep her burgeoning inner demons at bay.

Venue: Cannes Film Festival (ACID)

Production companies: Envie de Tempete Productions

Cast: Vincent Macaigne, Maud Wyler, Bastien Bouillon

Director, screenwriter: Sebastien Betbeder

Producer: Frederic Dubreuil

Director of photography: Sylvain Verdet

Production designer: Melodie Nishida

Music: Bertrand Betsch

Editor: Julie Dupre

Sales Agent: Alpha Violet

No rating, 93 minutes