Monday, January 23, 2012

Eric Schaeffer's AFTER FALL, WINTER probes pain, death, love and relationships

AFTER FALL, WINTER opens in Paris with a scene of a sick, maybe dying woman, who says to the man caring for her, "Call Sophie." He does. Turns out Sophie is a beautiful young caregiver-to-the-dying, and as the phone conversation proceeds, we get one whopper of a surprise which, if it doesn't immediately glue you to this film, you had better check your pulse. The movie then cuts to New York City, where our hero, Michael, played by Eric Schaeffer (shown below) who also wrote, produced and directed the movie, is having a very bad time.

Michael's latest book can't find a publisher, the guy just sold his NYC co-op at a huge loss, he's moved into a crummy third-world apart-ment, and he's over $600,000 in debt. (But is he happy?) So, when a good friend calls him from Paris and suggests he come visit for awhile, why not? As you might surmise, Sophie and Michael are going to get together. How they do and what happens makes up the meat of the movie (and an exceedingly meaty one it is).

Since 1993 Mr. Schaeffer has made eight full-length films, beginning with his debut effort, the OK-ish, sort-of-real-life comedy about trying to make a movie entitled My Life's in Turnaround. He followed this with the rom-com When Lucy Fell (featuring his starriest cast -- before they were stars), and then the darker Fall, followed by Wirey Spindell -- his exploration of bi-sexuality and romance as an adult and youngster. Then came the Jill Clayburgh/Jeffrey Tambor older-folk rom-com Never Again, and his ensemble rom-com-dram Mind the Gap, and then the follow-up to his first film, this time called They're Out of the Business.

For me, Schaeffer's movies have always been up-and-down affairs, promising more than they delivered. When I say that this is also true for his newest film, I must add that After Fall, Winter is far and away his best work, an often brilliant exploration of modern love-and-need that goes deeply into territory that is primal -- sex, love, pain, death -- and more often than not does that territory full justice. His dialog is real, witty, amusing, and deeply felt. And his situations, as bizarre as they sometimes are, work surprisingly well.

Performances are excellent all-round, with his luminous leading lady -- Lizzie Brocheré (above and below) in her first mostly-English-language performance, proving herself once again an actress of immense talent and beauty. Seen six years ago in the 2006 fraught, French teen-age transgression One to Another (her character here, Sophie, could almost be seen as the outcome of her character Lucie in that earlier film), Ms Brocheré was also first-rate in The Wedding Song (2008). The chemistry between the two leads is simply terrific, whether they are circling each other warily, bonding, spatting or screwing.

I've mentioned the word pain twice already, but I hesitate to go into detail for fear of spoiling things. As a filmmaker, and I suspect as a human being, Mr. Schaeffer wants us to refrain from judging his characters -- any of them. To that end he has arrayed before us their best and their worst qualities (and a lot in between). We're privy to some pretty awful stuff here, and to his credit the filmmaker lets us understand it better than almost any other movie I can think of that dares to go where this one does. From the gypsies to the mistresses of pain, the movie makes us understand things from a very different perspective than we are used to.

Schaeffer continues to learn about film-making technique, as well. After Fall, Winter is certainly his most beautiful movie to date. By using those spectacular Paris locations -- even the deserted warehouses look good -- perhaps this was not so very difficult to achieve. In any case, bravo.

But now: about the ending that Mr. Schaeffer has contrived. By the time we arrive there -- there may be a spoiler ahead -- the filmmaker has taken his story to a crescendo of drama and suspense. He has also painted his "hero" into the kind of corner from which there would appear to be little escape (his heroine perhaps even more so). When I say that we are in Romeo and Juliet territory, I mean it in both a good and bad way. How you'll react to the finale is anyone's guess. But just try to remember all the great stuff that has come before.

After Fall, Winter opens this Friday, January 27, in New York City at the Quad Cinema. Digital distributor FilmBuff (created in 2008) is releasing the film on VOD and Cable on January 31st. The film  will play at the Quad through next week, at the Cinekink Film Festival at the Anthology Film Archives on February 8, and at the FACETS CINÉMATHÈQUE in Chicago on February 27. Any DVD release is not yet confirmed.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

After Fall, Winter is a very powerful film with 2 characters in whom I was thoroughly invested. I thought that it was fitting for our male character to be flat & depressed in the beginning of the film & for the female to be a bit messy in her appearance. When you consider that this took place in a short period of time & the intense feelings they began to share, you are left with a feeling that this achievement is more real than most films deliver. It has left me sad for the tragedy of not being honest & seeing how devestating that can be.

James van Maanen said...

Thanks, Anon. I certainly agree with your comments, and I wish that this fine little film had been more widely seen. Maybe, since you recently saw it, this means the films is getting some more play, somewhere new. I hope so, anyway.