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Movie Reviews

Winter Boy ★★★★



Director: Christophe Honoré

Cast: Paul Kircher, Vincent Lacoste and Juliette Binoche

Release: Toronto International Film Festival 2022

A Christophe Honoré film will always push the emotional and political boundaries, and his latest offering Winter Boy, Le Lycéen, as its French title, falls neatly within this category. Starring Juliette Binoche and Vincent Lacoste, Winter Boy provides an insight into the dynamics of a close family unit with older sons. The focal point is on the younger son Lucas, played by Paul Kircher as the so-called Winter Boy navigating his way through sexual identity and discovering his place within society. His behaviours are subtly revealed as non-conventional within life and love, he perceives himself as a wild animal to be tamed, and the film’s direction guides the audience through his thoughts through a non-linear voiceover.

Winter Boy is a slow-paced examination of the impact of a family tragedy on the survivors. Through the eyes of Lucas and his stream-of-consciousness narration, there is that expectation and sense of foreboding for events yet to come. But the subtle impact of a tragic incident is delicately revealed through the reaction of others which may also unsettle audiences as Honoré’s direction ensures that we live vicariously through the pains and angst experienced by Lucas. Winter Boy may also have been an instrument of catharsis for Honoré, who had lost his father at a young age. Whilst the film may not be a biopic in that sense, it is somewhat meta and on the nose as Honoré also undertakes an onscreen role within the film.

Grief is ultimately subjective, and its impact on individuals is never fully known or understood until experienced first-hand. Even then, there are latent triggers that may manifest themselves. Honoré guides the audience sensitively through such a mourning period within Lucas’ family with close-ups and wide-angle shots. Indeed, there are moments of joy where the family recount memories of happier periods whilst sifting through a deceased member’s belongings. Still, the acute anguish and the pain are elements that Honoré seems to wish for the audience to work through alongside the characters. Winter Boy, therefore, does not provide that emotional escape. Still, it may be an empathetic tool for others serving as a talking point for those facing or encountering memories of similar situations during a grief-stricken period.

Outwardly, Lucas is encountering growing pains within a coming-of-age trajectory and is subject to a degree of awkwardness expected for his age. His unexplored grief may compound this aspect, unbeknownst to him, as he fails to communicate with other family members and latches on to other friends or strangers, expressing a modicum of kindness towards him. The emotions are too deep for him to analyse and process, and therefore he is not expected by family members to do more than provide an automatic ‘how you are? In response to tragic news. Lucas makes questionable choices in response to his underlying, ignored emotional state, eliciting a raw, dynamic performance from Kircher. Whilst the focus may not be entirely upon Lucas during such bleak moments, it is interesting to observe that the renowned French cinema actors Binoche and Lacoste have minor, subtle roles in comparison.

Winter Boy is a well-made, affecting film with a dreamy aesthetic and a tour de force nuanced performance from Kircher. He will elicit that resonance within the audience with his portrait of grief in adolescence. Honoré captures the uncertainty of grief perfectly within his direction of Kircher and is unafraid to permit the camera’s gaze to capture the slow, painful, emotionally disruptive process of mourning a loved one. Life never provides that instruction manual with how to balance day-to-day life and extraordinary events when a family member’s death occurs, as no one else is encountering a similar dynamic. Honoré’s experience with a tragedy may have shaped the film as the subject matter is handled sensitively whilst depicting that inner turmoil. The film ultimately unveils the importance of being kind to ourselves, acknowledging our emotions, no matter how painful, and being brave to communicate with those nearby or through other forms of media as an expression of self-care.

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