Alain Evrard, a trucker who has just finished serving a prison sentence, is forced to temporarily move back to his mother's house. This forced co-habitation causes all the violence of their... See full summary »
Alain Evrard, a trucker who has just finished serving a prison sentence, is forced to temporarily move back to his mother's house. This forced co-habitation causes all the violence of their past relationship to re-emerge. One day, Alain accidentally discovers Yvette, his mother, by a brain tumor and that she has decided to shorten her suffering by resorting to assisted suicide in Switzerland... Written by
Sandwiched between the Cannes Film Festival screening of Michael Haneke's "Amour", the May 2012 Palme d'Or ceremony and the much acclaimed October release of the Austrian director's last film, "Quelques heures de printemps" (A Few Hours of Spring), Stéphane Brizé's masterpiece, shown in September and dealing with approximately the same theme (a person's end of life experience and its consequences on a close relative), paled in terms of box office but not at all as a work of art. For, even though it has been seen by only 300,000 people in France (nothing to be ashamed of but this outstanding movie certainly deserved better), it will doubtless become a classic that will be seen and seen again profitably by the future generations. If "Amour" concerns an old woman who gradually descends into death, "A Few Hours of Spring" (a fine title paying homage to another classic, Claude Sautet's "A Few Days with Me") describes the last months of Yvette Evrard (Hélène Vincent in an amazing César-winning performance), an aging mother who has decided to die in order not to suffer the indignities of the terminal stages of a brain tumor. And where Anne's close relative in "Amour" is her husband, the one in Stéphane's Brizé's film is Yvette's middle-aged son Alain (played by Vincent Lindon, more tormented, blunt and withdrawn than ever). Both films show that accompanying a terminally ill patient is at once one of the most frightful ordeals a human being has to go through and a unique self-revealing experience. What distinguishes them may be the empathy (or the lack of it) that emerges (or not) from Brizé's and Haneke's respective works. For, if all agree on the high quality of the two films, most of the viewers have been moved by Yvette and Alain Ménard's lot whereas a significant number of those who saw "Amour" thought it too cold and unsympathetic.
To concentrate on "A Few Hours of Spring" solely, it should be noted that Yvette's dramatic choice is not the only issue examined by the director. In the first half, the question is not even alluded to. In this part of the movie, Stéphane Brizé does in fact what he is a past master at : providing a faithful description of ordinary people in contemporary France. Two persons in a small detached house, a dog and a neighbor are enough for the filmmaker to capture the way modest people (i.e.: most people) live nowadays. Yvette, Alain and their benevolent neighbor Monsieur Lalouette's every move (the instant coffee they drink, Alain taking the dog out, Lalouette giving Yvette the apples of his orchard, a.s.o.) are scrutinized and ring wonderfully true. In the same respect, the words they exchange never give the impression to have been written before being uttered. To complete the picture, the viewer is specified what the characters' jobs are or were, which is not always the case in current cinema: Alain was a trucker but he is now jobless after serving a prison sentence ; the neighbor was one too but is retired now. Likewise, part of the running time is devoted to Alain getting through the Employment Agency and subsequently trying his hand at an unskilled job (in what other mainstream French film can you see the "hero" working in a recyclable sorting plant side by side with a Balck emigrant?). To put it briefly, social reality is depicted in a straight accurate manner in "A Few Hours of Spring" just the way it was in Brizé's former works (from "Le Bleu des villes" to "Mademoiselle Chambon"), which makes the characters all the closer to us. Another feature of Brizé's oeuvre, also present in this film, is his awesome ability to represent non-communication without boring the audience. Many of his characters (Florence Vignon in "Le Bleu des villes", Patrick Chesnais in "Je ne suis pas là pour être aimé", Vincent Lindon in "Mademoiselle Chambon") are loners who are unable to express their feelings and accordingly find it hard to connect with others. In "A Few Hours of Spring", Yvette et Alain join the club, by taking refuge in words left unsaid and unexpressed resentment, which is bound to result in misunderstandings and in occasional violent rows. The same is true when Alain finds requited love in the person of the beautiful and sensitive Clémence : he spoils the whole thing by clamming up as soon as his lover wants to know more about him. As for the main theme, the right of any individual to end their lives when all hope of recovery has vanished, it is presented clearly but without dogmatism or oversimplification. All the options are expressed (notably that of Yvette's cancer specialist, favoring palliative care over assisted suicide) and Brizé solicits the viewer's reflection without manipulating them. And when it comes to Yvette's last moments, the director finds the right tone in filming them, a real exploit in itself. This is actually one of the most pared down (and one of the most moving as a result) agony scenes ever shown on a screen. Uncannily indeed, like Alain himself, you feel appeased in the scene Yvette's death rather than distressed. Things are the way they should be.
My conclusion will come as no surprise : at once sensitive, thought- provoking and a work of art crafted to perfection, "A Few Hours of Spring" is a milestone you just cannot miss out on.
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