Stéphane and Maxime run a violin repair business. However, their partnership is jeopardised when Maxime leaves his wife for Camille, a beautiful musician who becomes obsessed with breaking down Stéphane's evasive reserve.
Claude Sautet was a master of middle-class mores, who deftly dissected the pettiness and hypocrisy of his characters in a series of intense melodramas that never quite found the international audience they deserved. He was particularly fascinated by threesomes and had already explored their subtle dynamics in Les Choses De La Vie, César et Rosalie, Vincent, François, Paul Et Les Autres and Une Histoire Simple before he embarked on this stylish romantic ménage that is as refined as the classical music world against which it is set.
The action opens as a study of mutual dependence, in which the gregarious Maxime exploits the undemonstrative Stéphane's expertise, while the latter lives vicariously through his partner's hectic social life. But this delicate balance (based as much on acceptance as affection) is disturbed by the intrusion of Camille, who views Stéphane's reserve as a challenge that becomes an obsession as she falls in love with him. Un Coeur en Hiver's discussion of social and sexual convention relies heavily on ambiguity and misconception, as Camille is convinced that Stéphane's interest in her art and indifference to her personality is some sort of intellectual come on. But his fascination with people precludes sentiment and, so, while he is content to observe and analyse their behaviour, he is unwilling to make an emotional investment in them. In the hands of a lesser director, the symbolism of a craftsman who can fine tune an instrument but no longer has the soul to play could have appeared crass. But, such are Sautet's insight, compassion and finesse that the drama intrigues and involves throughout. Adding to its frisson was the fact that Daniel Auteuil and Emmanuelle Béart were then an item. Yet it was Dussolier who, along with Sautet, won a César for his work.
Compassionate but unsentimental drama with a vibrant central cast.