It feels as though, while American romantic comedies and dramas become more and more stagnant, revolving around deeply entrenched genre tropes and narrative cliches, the world of world romantic pictures is only getting more and more innovative. Yes, while many still fall on similar cliched swords in the world of “boy meets girl, loses girl, gets girl back” narratives, world filmmakers are finding ways to not only make that once again interesting, but feel fresh and vital.
Take for example Sebastien Betbeder’s great new French indie, 2 Autumns, 3 Winters.
The picture introduces us to three 30-something Parisians in the middle of romantic struggles and the usual existential crises that befall that age bracket. Using a structure where the film is broken up amongst various chapters told from the points of view of any one of the three main characters, the film opens with introductions. We meet a lost-in-pre-middle-age man named Arman (played by apparent festival darling Vincent Macaigne), as he meets the breathtaking Amelie (Maud Wyler). The two literally run into each other while jogging, and after a Amelie is saved, sort of, from being mugged by Arman, the two spark up a rather fruitful relationship. Things change when Arman’s schoolmate, Benjamin (Bastien Bouillon) suffers from a stroke, only to fall for his physical therapist. The two couples overlap, seemingly growing as best friends in what appear to be life long commitments, until reality sets in, and the rules begin to change.
The greatness of this film, and this is truly one of this year’s great romantic pictures, comes from Betbeder’s willingness to openly experiment. Be it the fun use of structure here and point of view shifts, or the breathtaking blend of hyper grainy 16mm photography and much more crisp and clean HD work (all from DP Sylvain Verdet, possibly the film’s biggest star), the film is chock full of playful directorial choices. Betbeder isn’t afraid to narratively play around as well, taking us on journeys into the afterlife for one character, and even introducing a mind reading sibling, all with such matter of factness that instead of feeling false or contrived, it becomes charming and depth-building.
The story itself isn’t all that new or innovative. The blending here of voice over, talking head interview segments and straight forward storytelling beats isn’t all that informative and while the narrative itself is engaging, it doesn’t dig much deeper than the normal existential tale of 30-something malaise. The performances here help elevate the material, particularly when they join one another on screen. The chemistry between the two respective romantic groups here is top notch, and each pair themselves find real energy when together. Our lead duo is magnetic, and their story is both relatable and rewarding, particularlyy in the film’s final few moments. Macaigne proves to be the biggest star here, taking this role to heights of naturalism that are rarely reached. It’s a powerful, commanding and truly resonant performance that, itself, makes this picture a must see.
Despite devolving narratively into some stayed and storied romantic cinema cliches, the film is so much style that it becomes almost experimental. With powerful performances across the board and a style that will leave any viewer breathless, Betbeder’s sophomore effort is a French indie darling that is more than worth your time, and one of this year’s truly great cinematic romances. With more than its fair share of memorable moments, that speak not only to the film’s willingness to break romantic cinema’s unwavering disinterest in stylistic experimentation but also genuine human existential issues, 2 Autumns is a must-see indie, where the grain found in some of its photography is almost as emotionally stimulating as the romance that it’s shooting.