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Friday, 3rd December 2010

A heart in winter

The blog of 5 November 2010 talked about Stoic thoughts, which date back to ancient Greek times. Heavily influenced by Socrates' ethics before them, the Stoics aspired to the repression of all emotion.

Is such repression any good? Are there any more Stoics nowadays? Well, at least we have an example in a movie.

The 1992 movie, A heart in winter (Un coeur en hiver), tells the story of three characters: Stephane, Camille and Maxime. Camille, a violinist of rising fame, began a relationship with Maxime, who runs a workshop making and repairing violins and hires his friend Stephane. Maxime and Stephane are polar opposites. While Maxime on the front takes care of business dealings, Stephane at the back is a master craftsman of violins.

(Courtesy : Wikipedia)
(Courtesy : Wikipedia)

Stephane's lifestyle is minimal and spartan. He lives an inner life and is quite incapable of expressing any emotion. He excels at his work and loves music, understanding his clients' performances well. While his eyes are radiant, he puts his feelings into a place beyond the reach of most people.

On the surface, Camille displays coolness that keeps a distance between herself and others. But underneath, especially in her music, she has a real passion.

It is a passing glance from Camille, after having lunch with Maxime one day, that proves fateful. She is attracted to the reticent and mysterious Stephane. In a subsequent rehearsal in front of Stephane (who has just fixed her violin), she keeps getting a certain passage wrong. In another rehearsal, he unexpectedly invites her for a drink --- a rather rude interruption for her and her colleagues. But she accepts it, and they go out in the midst of a downpour, almost run over by a car.

Then there is a period of inactivity when Stephane seems to avoid her. Camille has stopped calling him. It is when Maxime is about to move into an apartment with Camille that Stephane suddenly feels uncomfortable. He starts to look back at their relationship.

In a showdown, she reproaches him for avoiding her. He indicates that it is his choice to live without emotion and feeling. But she is not convinced.

Maxime then realizes what has happened and gentlemanly decides to withdraw and leave them alone. Camille, having performed superbly at the studio, happily dashes off with Stephane for a celebration. Then Stephane becomes uneasy, and makes it very clear that he is unable to have the intimate relationship with her, saying that he is too late for everything in life. Camille is shattered.

When Camille recovers, she returns to Maxime's side. It dawns on Stephane that there is more to his feelings for Maxime and Camille than he admits. As Maxime and Camille depart for a concert tour, Camille looks back at him with the same intensity she cast upon him the first time.

The movie is not intended to be a Hollywood romance. In a way, Stephane is a believer of Stoicism. His concentration on music and arts brings inner peace and a higher level of perfection.

Marcus Aurelius (121-180 AD), a Stoic philosopher and Roman emperor, said: "in thy passions, take it presently to thy consideration, that to be angry is not the part of a man, but that to be meek and gentle, as it savours of more humanity, so of more manhood. That in this, there is strength and nerves, or vigour and fortitude: whereof anger and indignation is altogether void."

While the inter-relationships in the movie may be complicated, the viewer is nevertheless awarded with a sumptuous feast of Ravel's chamber music. Music lovers would not be disappointed. Winter has its own beauty.

B.Y. Lee


a) Wikipedia
b) Jorn K. Bramann: Educating Rita and Other Philosophical Movies
c) Meditations, by Marcus Aurelius, translated by Meric Casubon, published by J.M. Dent & Sons Ltd., 1906.

Last revision date: <17 Jan 2013>