Grenouille d’Hiver (Winter Frog)

Gérard Depardieu plays Benjamin, the grey, sad viticulturist and Eriko Takeda disturbs the tombs in his eyes.

Gérard Depardieu plays Benjamin, the grey, sad viticulturist and Eriko Takeda disturbs the tombs in his eyes.

A meditative and elegiac embrace of loss and mourning shapes the gentle heart of director Slony Sow’s much lauded short film, starring Gérard Depardieu as Benjamin, a grey, sad viticulturist.

It’s been a disturbing winter for Benjamin, and the very recent death of his wife (Sabine Lenoël) has rendered him a huge mass of grief. He heaves himself, an awkward rock, between the rooms of his vast stone house, the cellars where he stores his wine and the bleak outside full of gnarled vines.

Before long Miko (Eriko Takeda) arrives, a polite and persistent gift, who has flown all the way from Japan. As she drives into the courtyard, warmth enters the chilly vineyard. Miko is expecting to attend a wine-tasting tour that she had booked through Benjamin’s wife. Understandably, Benjamin’s grief has made him grumpy, and he declares, gruffly, that the tour is off.

Miko will not take no for an answer: she deflects Benjamin’s mood and meanders her way into his house, persuading him to let her stay. With fairy-tale grace, Miko presents him with a Japanese good luck charm in the form of a small frog (‘seeing a frog in winter signifies eternal life’); she disturbs the tombs in Depardieu’s eyes, releasing him to mourn.

Grenouille d’Hiver is a haunting visual poem: eighteen minutes of symbols, silences and carefully chosen words. Sow is directing visual haiku; it is simple and hugely moving. Depardieu is a full presence, a broken king in his own domain. Takeda by contrast is delicate and determined, equally strong in her own way. It is difficult not to see Benjamin as our imagined version of Depardieu himself. Takeda has found a way to reach him. Together, their performances allows East to nurture West, achieving an understanding of mourning that is as bare as vines in winter.

Slony Sow (2011)

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