Auteuil plays Paul, a popular neurosurgeon who is confronted by Lou (Leïla Bekhti), a former patient, at a nearby bar, who claims the doctor was an inspiration to her in how he handled her operation. Though somewhat touched, when Paul starts to receive an influx of anonymous flowers, he soon feels unnerved, and struggles to comprehend exactly why this is going on. Frightened, anxious, yet ultimately somewhat curious, he takes some time off work to get his head around the whole ordeal. However to make matters worse, his wife Lucie (Kristin Scott Thomas) suspects him of having an affair with the girl, following on from his peculiar behaviour.
Claudel is sure to keep his audience at arm’s length throughout the movie, though it makes for an emotionally detached piece of cinema. A notion enhanced by the director’s decision to shoot with a variety of shots from a distance, as we almost peer in voyeuristically into their lives, with the viewer often placed behind a shop window, or through a crowd of people. Paul keeps his cards very close to his chest, and at any potential point of conflict, our characters merely look at one another contemplatively, instead of shouting or speaking. It’s a very ambiguous and evidently meaningful piece, though if you leave struggling to work out exactly what that grander meaning is, fear not, you’ll be in strong company. You know it all means something, with hidden messages and meanings, but it’s almost too perplexing, convoluted and elusive in its approach.
Claudel simply attempts too much, with too many corresponding narratives to focus on. There’s even the additional Gérard character, played by Richard Berry, who evidently has strong feelings for Lucie. It brings about a whole new, and entirely superfluous, dimension and dynamic to proceedings, and it’s overbearing. There is a suspenseful nature to this picture though, as the protagonist’s paranoia shifts onto the viewer, as we struggle to piece this tale together. A foreboding element is prevalent too, as we open with Paul being questioned, with the fate of Lou evidently the topic of conversation, before the rest of the film plays out as a flashback.
Overtly ambiguous, and emotionally cold, there’s undoubtedly a profound meaning to Before the Winter Chill, but the complex, intricate nature of the film makes it somewhat difficult to read. You’re waiting, patiently, for that moment of clarity – but sadly are left wanting.