A Few Hours Of Spring

A Few Hours Of Spring


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Terminal illness has long been a subject of fascination for filmmakers. For those of us living with serious health problems, the twee, touristy perspective most films bring can be frustrating, the syrupiness even more so. It's common for them to sentimentalise the sick and keep their real focus on those left behind. Given this, Stéphane Brizé's perfectly balanced two-hander is a breath of fresh air. Well informed and unsensational, it uses illness as its backdrop and delivers a thoughtful character study.

Vincent Lindon is Alain, just released from prison after an 18-month sentence for a petty smuggling offence. He's learned his lesson but struggles to readjust to society, now with an extra barrier to finding tolerable work in a recession. Having no other option, he moves in with his mother, Yvette (Hélène Vincent). She's getting on with life as responsibly, dutifully and precisely as ever, but she's also trying to cope with brain cancer. It's not long before Alain discovers that she's already made up her mind what to do about it. There is no room for discussion. The decision is hers to make, not his. All he can do is try to find a way of coping with it.

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All this would be easier if Alain were capable of recognising and acknowledging his own feelings. If 18 months seems too short a time in which to become institutionalised, we have to wonder about what he was like before. There are little hints. At a neighbour's house, he asks what they're having for dinner, blithely assuming he'll be provided for. He resents his mother's suggestions to tidy up after himself, resents her complaints about the smell of smoke in his room. Her quiet fury never quite boils over; she never tells him directly to grow up. Perhaps it's because she feels responsible for his lack of responsibility. Perhaps she's simply terrified by the thought of him having to cope alone when she's gone. Have they failed each other? Might there still be time to put it right?

Lindon immerses herself in a role played with steely restraint; only at the very end, when nothing can make a difference any more, will Yvette be free to let go. Her physical decline reveals not helplessness but tremendous strength and discipline. At the same time, the viewer is invited to question whether this emotional reticence is what has left Alain so emotionally illiterate. Is it the weight of his other concerns or simply incompetence that threatens his relationship with unfeasibly beautiful new girlfriend Clémence (Emmanuelle Seigner)? It is to Lindon's credit that he succeeds in making us care about such a difficult character, in letting the audience see what Alain himself cannot.

Beautifully observed and staged with exquisite care, A Few Hours Of Spring invites us to connect with its characters through the minutiae of everyday life. Ordinary clothes and household items are weighted with meaning. As we look out for signs of Yvette's mental disconnection, we find ourselves playing closer attention to every details, just as death throws life into perspective. This is a film that makes most others on the subject look like wasted opportunities.

Reviewed on: 01 Feb 2013
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An ex-con struggles to cope with his mother's failing health.
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Director: Stéphane Brizé

Writer: Stéphane Brizé, Florence Vignon

Starring: Vincent Lindon, Hélène Vincent, Emmanuelle Seigner

Year: 2012

Runtime: 108 minutes

Country: France

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