Ma saison préférée (1993)
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Catherine Deneuve plays Emilie, an emotionally detached middle-aged woman who feels like she losing her grip. She's a lawyer, as is her husband, Bruno, but there is no love left in their marriage and her two nearly grown up children are estranged from her.
A crisis sets off a chain of events in her life. Her mother, Berthe, is having fainting spells and the doctors feels she shouldn't be alone at her country home, so Emilie invites her to stay with her family. No one is happy with the arrangement. Bruno resents her presence, and both he and his daughter think everyone in Emilie's family is crazy.
Emilie's brother, Antoine, a fussy little brain surgeon played by Daniel Auteuil, is invited by Emilie for Christmas Eve dinner. He doesn't get along with her family and soon an argument breaks out when Berthe tries to get her children to sit still while she discusses her will. Antoine leaves with his mother, to take her back to her home, and Emilie leaves after a bitter argument with Bruno.
The film follows the developing relationship among this circle of people. Everyone is wrapped up with their own lives and extremely possessive. No one really knows how to reach out to another human being.
We learn that Berthe and her husband were simple country folk - she never learned how to read - who only wanted what was best for their children. Berthe tells them their father only wanted them to be "modern." But modernity has its price.
Both the children are too busy with their own lives to take her in when she suffers another fainting spell, so she is placed in a rest home and begins to deteriorate. Antoine doesn't recognize that she's suffered a brain lesion because of a stroke - this is supposed to be his specialty, but he can't see what's right in front of him. Emilie's law practice centers around personal estates, but she has a hard time connecting with her own mother.
After the funeral, the whole family gets together at Emilie's old home and sits outside for a meal. They begin to talk and show more friendliness towards each other than in the past - Bruno even invites Antoine to sleep the night over. The title from the film comes from the last snippet of conversation when everyone confesses what their favorite season of the year is.
This is a fine film that explores adult relationships. It's rather candid and not as histrionic as, say "Ordinary People." The acting is well-done - Catherine Deneuve continues to age extraordinarily well - and the scenery of rural Southwest France is stunningly pastoral.
Because of its drab subject matter, this one might not appeal to everyone, but it's a very good movie and I recommend it.
The script is fascinating in that it contains so many wonderful, adult scenes. Some which come to mind immediately are:
When the mother is talking to herself by the swimming pool, Deneuve comes in saying "why didn't you turn on the light maman?", "Are you afraid I might break something" the mother says "No, it's just that you don't know the house and you may hurt yourself", Deneuve answers. The dialogue is so strong in that you get a point of view from all characters, yet other characters see things in a totally different way and they are all valid.
The conversation between Bruno and Emilie after his fight with Antoine about how she thinks Bruno's aged badly. How he sees their relationship and gone badly and in contrast how she sees it.
the conversations between Antoine and Emilie about putting their mother in a nursing home, how she always has to find the solutions to things and when she tries, he criticizes and she breaks down crying.
the point made by their mother at the nursing home regarding her children and modernity. How the children have grown up modern as they had wished but this curse of modernity has led them to put their aging mother into this home.
The way the mother talks so frankly about the grandchildren,"she taps on that damn piano all day, and the boy, a real half-wit."
the close bond between her and Antoine "you don't have to fake sleeping maman, it's only me"
I also love the piece of dialogue, after the mother's funeral, where Emilie has been separated from the family and you feel it's time she goes back home and instead of announcing anything, apologizing or trying to get back to the family's good graces, she turns to her husband Bruno as a matter of factly and says "Do we have enough eggs at home?"
Brilliant writing, brilliant dialogue, superb acting. I highly recommend this truly adult movie. Wish they'd make more like this.
What is more, after I went to bed, the thoughts just kept coming, unfolding from one another, leading to interrelations between the people, the situations, the conversations and also to conclusions, some of which might not even have been intended, but still fit perfectly into the mosaic of the film, because the director had a perfect vision and created a world that functions on its own.
It is a very atmospheric movie. It is artistic, but not in the abstract way - it's as down to earth as possible, as grounded in reality as it can be - and anyone who has been part of such a family will realise this instantly. It does suggest things, but then it also claims them, but in a language that puts into words the unsayable. Things get said out loud; still, it never sounds didactic or threadbare. It just portrays what IS; it never judges - as it is showing exactly how impossible it is to judge any human behaviour, when there are so many unseen forces in play behind it. And the real mystery is how on earth the film avoids being depressing... But it's Téchiné's secret, and I'm glad he has it.
I have never seen the complexity of human feelings and family relationships told so realistically, yet so sublimely before. If you only like action-packed blockbuster movies, this is definitely not for you. Otherwise, I can only recommend it, and it's a perfectly round 10.
There is a subplot involving a woman named Radish that is a little puzzling, and some details that are purposefully vague (china clock? hospital pervert?) But they don't detract from the movie - the ambiguities enhance it.
The human emotions, conscience and tensions between siblings, between parents and children (both Berthe's and Emilie's children), between spouses, between a son-in-law and mother-in-law, between an uncle and his nieces were written and acted out extremely authentically and unpretentiously. It hits right at you and set you thinking about your own relatives and the corresponding tensions and relationships in your own life. This is so crude yet so real and audience are left to be awed at how genuine and honest this is especially for those who can feel connected to one of some of the characters.
A few scenes were utterly moving and sweet to me. Antoine and Emilie singing in the car with Berthe listening and could not helping smiling from her heart in the backseat. The scene where Antoine rushed back to his flat to check on his ill and depressed sister fearing that she would plunge off the balcony. The scene where Antoine deliberately "fell" from the balcony just to attract attention from her angry sister. Not to mention the extremely beautiful and touching discussions about favourite seasons at the end which built up to an incredible climax at the end, so typically spectacularly done by Techine.
I admire Daniel Auteuil who portrays Antonie very fittingly. Confidently, self-righteous yet passionate successful surgeon, Daniel was very convincing and makes Antonie a highly likable and romantic character throughout.
Personally, I would rate "My Favourite Season" higher than "Wild Reeds", even though both are absolutely amazing and beautiful character studies. I wish this is not yet the best of Techine as I expect more of this good stuff from this truly wonderful and unique director. This is among my all time favourites, closely followed by "Wild Reeds" and "You can count on me" in this similar genre.
Well, what a tease. That really doesn't happen. After a bit Deneuve gets seduced by a very aggressive and anonymous intern which reawakens her sexuality and makes her realize she can't live with her brother. And so she leaves him. He breaks into her house in an attempt to get her back....
I think Director André Téchiné did a good job with what he attempted, but could have attempted more. The cast is good, especially Marthe Villalonga as the mother and Deneuve, who has aged well. It's amusing to see that the cool and stately actress is still being sexually abused by the French directors for the audience. I wonder what they would have done if, instead of Hitchcock, et. al., THEY could have gotten their hands on Deneuve's cinematic American soul sister, Grace Kelly. It would have been interesting to see Grace Kelly in, say, Truffaut's Mississippi Mermaid (1969) with Jean-Paul Belmondo instead of Deneuve. Or, how about Grace Kelly as "Belle de Jour"?
But I digress.
(Note: Over 500 of my movie reviews are now available in my book "Cut to the Chaise Lounge or I Can't Believe I Swallowed the Remote!" Get it at Amazon!)
Meanwhile, Emilie sees the empty shell of her household, which has been a façade for a long time, disintegrates. The loneliness which results causes her daughter Anne (Chiara Mastroianni) to find a friend and a sister-figure in Khadija (Carmen Chaplin), a young woman bitter and confused about her relationship with boys.
André Téchiné weaves a story about intense and painful complex family dynamics; the wide gap which exists between a parent and her children caused by modernity and class differences; and the painful ambiguous feelings siblings have for each other, including taboo incestuous feelings. On a smaller scale, he addresses the rough ways in which boys view girls and the power struggle that exist between them, especially in terms of sex.
The story itself is complex and takes unpredicted twists. Just when we think that Emillie and Antoine have resolved, at least for the moment, their tensions with each other, things take an unexpected turn which pulls back out each of their bitterness.
This makes the movie long. It is not for the impatient. However, for those who choose to stick to the end, it may prove a rewarding ride: the acting is spot-on and the actors blend perfectly with their roles. Catherine Deneuve is a genius playing Emilie, a woman cold and detached on the outside, but also with an undercurrent of vulnerability and an emotional core to her. The dialogue is brilliant and slowly, albeit confusingly revealing to us the way Emilie and Antoine see each other, which is rooted in a passionate childhood companionship. It is endearing to see Antoine, a brain surgeon, meticulously analyzing his sister and the relationship they have by linking it to his pet subject: the brain.
The only complain to this movie which I have is that the sub-plot (which revolves around the younger characters, namely Anne, Khadija and the dim-witted son who seems to force himself on the latter woman) seems to not be more thoroughly approached though still profound.
But otherwise, this is a great movie. André Téchiné has a knack for complex human dramas.
Daniel Auteuil has become, in my mind, a seriously overused actor, but he shines here as the emotionally unstable Antoine, who's not quite sure how to relate to his older sister or to anyone else for that matter. Emilie, the sister, possesses all the grace and class of Deneuve despite her simple countryside upbringing - their mother Berthe never even learned how to read. Like nearly all those born between the outbreaks of the two world wars, Berthe and he husband wanted their children to move up in the world, and in their minds, this meant their children had to become "modern."
And modern they are, but at what a price. Throughout the film we watch how "modernization" destabilized the normative familial relations of this family in the generation of Antoine and Emilie and how it haunts them in their adult lives: Emilie's ambiguity as to how to deal with her brother very nearly destroys her marriage and her own nuclear family. Berthe, for her part, comes to see how her struggle to raise "modern" children has served only to drift them away from her... right at the moment when she most needs and wants them.
Other focal points of ambiguity and gloom include Emily's and Bruno's adopted son, who is obviously uneasy with having been inserted into a ready-made family, as though the ancient primordial order could be manipulated and reconstructed at will. The ambiguities of modernity are never resolved, but the film manages to avoid descending into a postmodern diatribe and gives a ray of hope, suggesting that, with a little effort to remember the good, life can perhaps move forward in a more primordially "normal" manner.
I think the best part of the film is the plot. It is simple and portrays everyday life. There is nothing overly dramatic, and yet it keeps viewers wanting more. I like the way that the relationship drifts closer and farther at varying points. It is particularly moving to see how they got united to solve her mother's care. The emotions are portrayed well, and I find all the characters deep and complex. It is hard to make such a slow and intimate film work, but in this case it works well.
The film begins with Berthe moving in with Emilie, her husband, Bruno, their daughter and adopted son. Emilie hasn't talked to brother Antoine, a brain surgeon, in three years but finally decides to bury the hatchet by visiting him at the hospital where he works. She invites him for dinner so he can visit their mother. We soon learn that all is not very good with Emilie and Bruno's relationship. This is perhaps the weakest part of the film, as their estrangement is never explored in any kind of depth. Emilie merely states to Bruno that he's grown old poorly and soon afterward, Bruno makes it clear that he's angry that Emilie won't share the same bed with him, and he agrees to her suggestion that they separate.
Meanwhile, the 'young ones', the daughter, the adopted son and his girlfriend, are shown mainly as a contrast to the gravity of Emilie and Antoine's relationship. Most of the time, the young people engage in trivial pursuits, including a couple of dances in the buff by the girlfriend. When Antoine walks in on the son and his girlfriend making love, we also learn that Antoine is quite tolerant, promising not to reveal their tryst to the parents.
Antoine proves to be the most interesting character in the film. While he believes in the philosophy of 'live and let live', he's quite thin-skinned, and often is unable to control his temper. When Bruno accuses Antoine of being cowardly, because he doesn't want to discuss his mother's proposal to draw up a will, they come to blows.
When Berthe collapses back at her home, Emilie and Antoine must then decide what to do with their mother. In perhaps the most touching moment in the film, Antoine has a heart-felt conversation with Emilie, after she's taken refuge in a woman's bathroom, following Antoine chastising her for her suggestion that they put their mother in a nursing home. As they both have no choice, the besieged siblings eventually do put their mother in the nursing home but eventually realize that she's deteriorating there and remove her from the debilitating environment.
After Antoine learns that Emilie has separated from her husband for good and moves to a hotel, we see him talking to himself, reveling in the fact that his sister has finally left the man who Antoine always regarded as 'no good'. Now Antoine becomes more possessive of Emilie. He even suggests they move in together and Emilie is completely uncomfortable with this ideain her mind, Antoine may have incestuous feelings for her. From Antoine's point of view, there's nothing wrong acting 'childlike'.
A final crisis with the mother unhinges both siblings. Berthe is found to have a lesion on the brain and Emilie accuses Antoine of having ignored her symptoms, and not prevented the present crisis (which involves the mother's imminent demise). Emilie ends up having sex in a park with a young intern at Antoine's hospital while Antoine jumps off his balcony, in a half-hearted suicide attempt.
After the mother's funeral, the family has lunch together and a reconciliation between both the siblings and the family at large, appears to be in the offing. Emilie recalls the words to a song she sung as a child. The lyrics begin, 'where is the friend I seek?' And of course, the 'friend' is life itself. And Emilie confesses that she must always summon up the courage to 'wait'like waiting for Antoine, which ultimately will bring her contentment. But she never quite finds the 'friend' she is seeking, because in the end, our lives end in death, and there is no significance to our lives, due to life's ultimate finality.
We are taken to a suburban setting where Emilie, a somewhat successful lawyer, has invited her aging mother, Berthe, to spend some time. Emilie is married to Bruno, and has a daughter, and an adopted son. Everything seems smooth, but Berthe shows signs of not being well. Emilie surprises her sitting by the pool talking to herself, something that worries her. Her own brother, Antoine, a doctor, lives and practices in nearby Tulouse, but he had quarreled with his sister after their father's death.
For Christmas, Emilie invites Antoine to come celebrate with them. Berthe takes a chance at the table to explain what she wants to do when the time comes for her to die. The idea does not sit well with her children, who find it bizarre to have this conversation during a festive occasion. Emilie's own marriage to Bruno is sadly ending, so she decides to go away to be on her own.
When Berthe falls at her own home in the country, the brothers bring her back to Tulouse for tests. Antoine discovers his mother has suffered a slight stroke. It is better to have her observed, and decide to bring her to a senior residence. Berthe hates it, so Emilie and Antoine decide to get her out. Eventually Berthe suffers a bigger stroke that ends her life. After the funeral, the siblings patch things up because their love for one another has never died.
Mr. Techine employs an almost improvisational style in his direction to this drama. In a way, he appears to have left the actors free reign in the way they approached the roles. The best thing, in our humble opinion, is the Berthe of Marthe Villalonga, in a performance that speaks volumes as she captured the essence of the woman that has seen her life pass her by and having to deal with the bitterness between the siblings. Daniel Auteuil excels as Antoine. This is an actor that keeps getting better, and better, ever since his debut in the French cinema. He seems to be at ease with anything he plays. Not being a Catherine Deneuve fan, her presence in the film is somewhat subdued, something that goes well with the tone the director wanted to give the film.
Auteiul and Catherine Deneuve play siblings who don't get along particularly well. In addition, both have severe problems dealing with their emotions as well as in relationships. Auteiul is still single and apparently without attachments and Deneuve is trapped in a loveless marriage to a man who is cold and rigid. The two estranged siblings are brought together by their mother's illness and they try to make a go of patching things together, though because of their own severe limitations, it's never an easy path. Along with these two characters is the cold husband, two adult children and a Moroccan lady who only seems to be in the film in order to take her clothes off--as she, like the children, has no real depth and you know almost nothing about them.
If you are looking for action or suspense, this film won't give you any. This doesn't really bother me, as I love French films because they often feature realistic people in everyday situations. However, what does bother me is that none of the characters are all that likable and it's hard to connect with them in any way. They seem to exist and react but the 'why' is missing. In other words, no context or explanation is given--making everyone seem very one-dimensional. Now some of this is probably due to the intent of the writers--they are supposed to be screwed up and incomplete individuals. However, even on this level, they don't really work well and seem like poorly executed caricatures instead of people.
Overall, well acted but amazing dull and unsatisfying. The actors deserved a better script than this one and being depressing is NOT a sign of quality or artistry.