The beauty of watching a film like Sebastien Betbeder’s gorgeous French movie 2 Autumns, 3 Winters with subtitles is that you get to truly appreciate each line. Betbeder’s screenplay is so effectively simple that, were the movie in English, some of the little throwaway lines would get lost. Here, the act of reading them means that we’re gently forced to soak them in. It’s a happy accident — as when main character Arman (Vincent Macaigne) is about to make love to his adorable beau, Amélie (Maud Wyler), he says, “We undressed in the living room. I’m glad I vacuumed.”
It’s the cutest of lines, said as an afterthought, but it’s a good indicator of what this film is about. The plot is wonderfully simple: Arman decides that he wants to get healthy, so he quits smoking and starts jogging in a Paris park. He literally bumps into Amélie, and is instantly smitten. He jogs more often in the hope of meeting her again, but that doesn’t happen. Instead, he hears a scream from an alley one night while cycling home from an evening with a friend. He gingerly ventures into the alley, and discovers two men attacking Amélie. He stops the probable rape, though he gets stabbed in the process.
It’s not too serious a wound, and their relationship develops nicely. Meanwhile, Arman’s best friend, Benjamin (Bastien Bouillon), mildly jealous of his buddy’s good fortune, suffers a stroke one night and is left powerless in a bush overnight. He gets help the next day and is taken to a hospital, where he makes a speedy recovery. While there, he falls in love with his young speech therapist, Katia (Audrey Bastien).
That’s it. That’s the plot. Two very nice men fall in love with two very nice girls. But this isn’t a plot-driven movie. This isn’t about “what happens next.” The beauty of the film is in the excellent script and the wonderful performances, with Macaigne and Wyler in particular standing out. Macaigne is undeniably charming in a very real, clumsily human way as Arman, as he fumbles his way into his relationship with Amélie. Their “first kiss” scene, for example, is awkward in a way that everybody can relate to. He comes across like a French Jason Segel — he’s an everyman and it’s easy to like him for it.
Wyler gives a warm performance that allows her to shine simply by throwing a glance Arman’s way. She responds to his lack of girl-skills with a natural grace. She doesn’t have a magnetic personality, but that’s not the point. Amélie is the wallflower who went largely unnoticed until Arman came along.
The movie is filmed with a series of talking heads providing the narration for the various stages of the two relationships, which gives the film a documentary feel. It’s shot in both grainy 16mm film and high-definition video, which again makes the whole experience feel more intimate.
Considering the fact that so little happens in 2 Autumns, 3 Winters, it’s incredible how enjoyable this film is. And yet, by the end, we’re rooting for the characters just as we are when watching Casablanca or Gone With the Wind.
Film Movement, 91 minutes