EARLY WINTER. Starring: Suzanne Clement, and Paul Doucet. Also, Max Laferriere, and Ambrosio De Luca. Directed by Michael Rowe. Rated MA 15+. Restricted. ( Strong sex scene). 97 min.
This Australian-Canadian film has lots of Australian connections. The writer-Director (Michael Rowe) is from Ballarat. The film was shot in Quebec, Canada, in winter time, but post-production took place in Queensland and Victoria, and the film was co-produced by an Australian, Trish Lake. The story is of a middle-aged man whose marriage is failing, and who suspects his wife is having an affair. It was awarded Best Film in the Venice Days section of the Venice International Film Festival in 2015.
David (Paul Doucet) lives with his wife, Maya (Suzanne Clement) and their two children on the outskirts of Montreal. He works days and nights as a janitor in a nursing home, compassionately meeting the demands of the needy, elderly people there. He works long hours, and he realises that he is putting his family and his marriage at risk by what he feels he has to do. His wife is left alone to wait for him to come home.
The prologue to the film is an intense sex scene in which the Director of the movie immediately establishes marital problems for David and Maya in their moments of intimacy together. The couple's interactions signal major relationship issues, and the viewer comes to realise that physical closeness between David and Maya does not always mean shared warmth.
David has been married before, and has fought alcoholism in the past. Maya has emigrated from Russia and has been unable to establish a social network in his absences, and she is resentful of her children's attachment to her husband. David and Maya's varying backgrounds make it difficult for them to solve the issues they have to face, and for different reasons, they feel aggrieved. Over time, they have settled into the routine of being negative, rather than loving, toward each other.
The title of the movie is a metaphor for a relationship that grows chillier in its intensity. The environment David and Maya have created for each other is cold and forbidding just like the weather that is around them, and Michael Rowe uses the season of winter as a powerful symbol for their emotional isolation.
Doucet and Clement act their roles with complete naturalness. The film's cinematography uses a large number of long-takes, and the camera frequently closes in on the characters to dramatically emphasise their lack of commitment to each other. Scenes are painted with careful attention to detail, but they are composed to reinforce the lack of closeness between two people, who should belong to each other, but aren't.
This is not a comfortable film to view, but it is particularly well directed and acted. There is little action and little talking, but it has strong impact. The Director of this film leaves us in no doubt about how David and Maya relate to each other - love has become elusive for them both. What lingers in mind after this movie has concluded, is that the drama is not just about marital discord and unhappiness, it is also about human frustration and loneliness. This is a film about two people, who fail all the time to relate meaningfully to each other. David is not even able to share with Maya the compassion he regularly shows at the nursing home, and Maya shows no willingness to listen.
This is a simple, moving story, and one that is filmed and acted with raw intensity. Its messages are sobering and bleak to hear, but deserve to be heard. The film communicates in unwavering tone the pain of a disintegrating marriage, but also how hard it is at times to keep emotional commitments actively alive.
Peter W. Sheehan is Associate of the Australian Catholic Film Office for Film and Broadcasting
Released October 7th., 2016