Guest contributor Jonathan Stevenson / French director Sebastien Betbeder’s 2 Autumns, 3 Winters is a deceptive movie. In its easy urbanity and charm, it seems to be poking a little fun at the solemnity of the New Wave filmmakers’ embrace of life’s chaotic fickleness. Yet the film’s substance belies its tone. Narratively as well as by title, it telescopes life into five seasons of relative severity, omitting notionally happy-go-lucky spring and summer. Two of the three characters are art school grads who experience life-threatening events, one of which is a violent attack on a dark Paris street. A minor character keeps trying to commit suicide. Thus, what we get is a a fairly heavy movie with a winningly light touch.
[Image at top: Art school grads Benjamin and Arman reunite in Paris 10+ years after graduation.]
Art, as it does in many movies, serves as a source of both refuge and clarification. (See also Palo Alto, the fine ensemble film based on James Franco’s short fiction, in which a high school delinquent’s saving grace is his drawing ability.) In one form or another, art is important to each character and several of the anecdotes that make up the film centrally involve music, film, television, or visual art. Towards the end of the story, the main characters visit a Munch exhibition. Rather than catering to cliché and zoning in on The Scream, the scene advances to paintings Munch made towards the end of his life, when an ocular affliction profoundly distorted his vision. That he still chose to paint what he saw suggests that enduring and deliberate honesty, to which the three key players all seem to aspire, lends value to one’s life as well as one’s art.
2 Autumns, 3 Winters is a voluble film – it is French, after all, and employs soliloquies as well as voice-overs – but the abundant verbalization is realistically elliptical and searching. Overall, then, Betbeder strikes a nice balance between showing and telling. In organizing the film by seasons, he also frames the passage of time – and, in particular, the fact that for human protagonists it is ever-dwindling – as a discrete element of the story. The idea that mortality makes life and its epiphanies all the more precious is neither subtle nor new, but not many movies convey it as well as this sneaky-good one does.
2 Autumns, 3 Winters, Eleanor Bunin Monroe Film Center, Film Society of Lincoln Center, through Thursday, June 12, 2014.
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