LFF #4 – Sébastien Betbeder’s 2 Autumns, 3 Winters

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There’s a real strand of youthful hope running through this year’s London Film Festival. No better is this exemplified than with Sébastien Betbeder’s 2 Autumns, 3 Winters, a compelling piece from the current Jeune Cinema trend in French Cinema. 

We referred fleetingly to the Jeune Cinema over the Summer, with it’s rise coming to fruition alongside our own examination of that most famous of Gallic cine-movements, the Nouvelle Vague. The trend has been trumpeted in the French media fairly heavily, with Cahiers du Cinéma dedicating an issue to the work of young filmmakers like Guillaume Brac, Justine Triet, Antonin Peretjatko and Betbeder himself, who alongside Vincent Macaigne, the enigmatic star of 2 Autumns, 3 Winters, stand at the forefront of a major upheaval in contemporary French cinema.

In many ways the public face of the movement, Vincent Macaigne is an endearing figure, and one whose talents outline the intentions of this current wave of young French filmmakers. He’s young, but not especially so, his 33-years having housed a pretty intense life. He’s staged his own reworked Hamlet and suffered personal ills, and straddles the dual-lexicon of the haute and mainstream culture, with the honest answer to a simple question in a recent interview as to his favourite pieces of movie music (Ghostbusters and Le Mepris) encapsulating the accessible but informed nature of the Jeaune Cinema perfectly. A cine-literate streak runs through the collective, with relationships within Betbeder’s film defined and shaped around movies, and plotting derived from a perception of text, much in the same way that the earlier French wave digested and recontextualised existing works of the silver screen to tell a further tale.

2 Autumns, 3 Winters revolves around a pair of relationships. Macaigne stars alongside Maud Wyler, Bastien Bouillon and Audrey Bastien in a tale that spans the several seasons of the title. Time is fractured, with the story bounding around each season with an anecdotal presence; flashbacks interweave with the current, with characters liable at any moment to break away from the on-screen action in order to face the camera and express some related point. While these direct-to-camera addresses occasionally take the form of an impromptu address from a rolling scene, ala Woody Allen or Jean-Luc Godard, more often than not they Betbeder chooses to place these commentaries in their own section of the movie, quarantined and out of time with the concurrent structure of the movie in general. While comparable to the production methods of a reality television programme, this breakdown and restructuring of the filmic elements and styles of form is actually very cinematic. Sarkozy and the Chilean miners are cut next to animated sojourns in to the netherworld and video essay breakdowns of Judd Apatow movies to create a pop culture collage, with the final work encapsulating Macaigne’s earlier (and unrelated) declaration that his world is “more Hip Hop than New Wave”.

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Contrary to Macaigne’s own judgment call one would hasten to argue against the presence of the spirit of the New Wave here. It’s most certainly alive in a film which evokes the playful spirit of Rivette and Rohmer. It’s actually Rohmer’s The Bakery Girl of Monceau that most clearly springs to mind when looking at 2 Autumns, 3 Winters, with it’s “the cut as memory” approach to form and romance and omnipresent narrative voice apparent in Betbeder’s text, while the pop-culturally driven, multi-faceted employment of technology recalls the aforementioned Godard.

The French cinema has been in need of  internal reappraisal from it’s own young artists for some time, and one can only hope that Betbeder and co. are in the primary stages of reaffirming their national cinema to the top of the world’s stage. Based on the evidence seen here, which is by all accounts something of a minor work within the grander framework of the Jeune Cinema, things are looking very promising.

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