My Favorite Season May 27, 2017
The leading characters of André Téchiné’s My Favorite Season (1993) are thoroughly unhappy — not a moment in their lives seems underlined in hope, in warmth. Professionally, they’ve peaked, raking in hefty salaries and swimming in finite promotion. Personally, they’ve plateaued, friends seemingly sticking around out of obligation, significant others now housemates rather than objects of affection. Children have grown. Wrinkles have overtaken a youthful glow. Not a thing is felt besides disaffection. There’s nothing left to do.
The aforementioned characters suffering so greatly are Émilie (Catherine Deneuve) and Antoine (Daniel Auteuil), middle-aged siblings who, as the film opens, have not spoken in nearly three years. They’d like to keep it that way — they had an ugly spat at their father’s funeral.
But the circumstances are severe. Their elderly mother, Berthe (Marthe Villalonga), is physically and mentally declining rapidly. Neither seems willing to take on the responsibility of caring for her: too much is going on in their everyday lives. Émilie and her husband (Jean-Pierre Bouvier) run a law firm and are parents to two nearly grown children (Chiara Mastroianni and Anthony Prada). Antoine is an unmarried neurosurgeon whose days are consumed holding fort over the operating table.
Out of guilt, Émilie has been hosting her mother. But the latter, unrelentingly displeased, doesn’t like the way in which the home is run — she finds her daughter and her husband pretentious, and thinks her grandchildren are piggish. She lets this be known. Émilie, with hesitation, reaches out to Antoine, whom Berthe evidently prefers, to gauge whether he’s willing to aid her in the situation.
But clear is that neither child is very inclined to take care of their mother: their lives are busy, sure, but what she represents is a confrontation of the past, and how Émilie and Antoine’s almost too close childhood relationship has impacted the way they live now. Which is selfishly and coldly: they seem unwilling to form meaningful relationships out of some fear that there might be a falling out resembling the one they had with one another.
Demons are confronted throughout the entirety of My Favorite Season, and fascinating is the way the film, rather plotless, doesn’t ensure its characters always be likable. We’re sympathetic toward them and the quandary they face with Berthe’s inevitable decline. But we sometimes find that Émilie is an aloof wife and mother, that Antoine is self-involved and frequently irrational, and that Berthe is unnecessarily cruel. Much of the movie is spent watching Émilie and Antoine rebuild their allegedly close relationship, but we ponder how much of their relationship was founded on simply trying to emotionally survive a childhood in which materials were sometimes more abundant than wholehearted love.
The screenplay, written by Pascal Bonitzer and Téchiné, is mostly without structure. Subplots, concerning Émilie and Antoine’s relationship, the sexual lives of Émilie’s children, and the failing state of Berthe’s health all admix, sometimes inefficiently. There comes a point wherein we realize that everything not circling around Émilie and Antoine’s bond is not nearly as interesting.
But there also comes a point wherein we notice that the structure is perceptive. We’re watching a family navigate through a particularly difficult period during their lives, and we’re disposed to, based on personal experiences, hold the way Bonitzer, Téchiné, and the film’s ensemble so humanistically handle the material in high regard. The script is just idiosyncratic enough to ensure these characters feel three-dimensional. Téchiné’s direction nonchalantly caters to realism. The performances, especially those of Deneuve and Auteuil, intrigue in the sense that they’re so remarkably mixed in with palpable pain.
There’s a lacking of urgency, however, that makes My Favorite Season definitively hard to grasp. The story and the characters living in it are undeniably superbly developed. But the lack of crystalline conflict, of the boiled-over theatrics that don’t make way as regularly as they should sometimes causes the film to underwhelm. It is a exceedingly sad, exceedingly well-made movie. But what is its purpose? B