A cruel seduction, or just a man afraid, crippled by his inability to be in love? Violin craftsman Stéphane (Daniel Auteuil) finds himself attracted to Camille (Emmanuelle Béart), the girlfriend of his friend and business partner, Maxime (André Dussollier). Stéphane is reserved, controlled and cool in his responses, a man who considers love ‘when written is often beautiful’ and when asked if he’s ever been in love, responds, dryly, ‘it must have happened to me.’
Then one afternoon, during a break in Camille’s recording session of chamber music by composer Maurice Ravel, the two sit in a café with the rain pouring outside, and over the sound of a couple arguing at a nearby table Stéphane chooses, very briefly, to show that he is attracted to Camille. His regard is soft, direct and he speaks the truth. Camille takes his honesty as an invitation to some kind of intimacy.
Yet from that moment he retreats: with a chilly heart he avoids Camille’s pursuit, speaking to her as though she were just another client, implying she misinterpreted his advance in the café. Camille is devastated and refuses to believe him.
Auteuil plays Stéphane’s coldness with a physical stillness. He is solid, unexcitable, like a king on a throne, not allowing himself to be any other way: self-preservation and protection worn as a breastplate, rebuffing attempts from his friends or Camille to know him at a deeper level.
Whether he actually intends to torment Camille for a kind of cruel sport, or if he just backs off, afraid of entering into a relationship with her, is unclear. We’re left confused, but this is writer/director Claude Sautet’s point: responses to attraction and desire are complex and can incite fear, and as a consequence, cause damage.
Béart is the glowing musician, seeking as strong an emotional connection in her playing as she seeks the truth in her love life. She can’t lie to Maxim and she can’t lie to Stéphane. By contrast, Stéphane is a conservatoire drop-out and despite being a fine craftsman, he is still very much the music-listener, the observer, who claims ‘music is for dreams.’ Perhaps Sautet is making a distinction between those who play music, and those who listen, as a metaphor for those who make themselves vulnerable and those who protect themselves: a protection that prefers to rest in the safety of dreams, which, in the long-term, leaves the heart in a winter with little promise of spring.
Director: Claude Sautet