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Familial Frost

Seething Siblings: Emotionally walled-up brother and sister Emilie (Catherine Deneuve) and Antoine (Daniel Auteuil) try to communicate in "Ma Saison Préférée."

Catherine Deneuve and Daniel Auteuil freeze out their feelings in André Téchiné's "Ma Saison Préférée"

By Richard von Busack

THE NEWLY RELEASED film by André Téchiné, Ma Saison Préférée (My Favorite Season), actually predates the director's last picture seen here, Wild Reeds. It describes a familial tangle whose base is the frosty Catherine Deneuve as Emilie, a blood-frozen lawyer, and her brother, Antoine (Daniel Auteuil), a noted brain surgeon whose vocation supplies Téchiné's most pithy metaphor. What coherence can you expect, Antoine suggests, from minds in which speech and sight originate from different lobes? Hence the problem of communication between the siblings. Antoine is apparently uninterested in women, having never met one that he liked as much as his sister, and Emilie's difficulty expressing love seems also to come from never having had as intense a passion for anyone as she has had for her brother.

Their other relations are just as conflicted. Deneuve's real-life daughter, Chiara Mastroianni, makes her debut as Emilie's awkward daughter. The special rapport that casting real-life mothers and daughters usually brings is immaterial considering how walled-up Emilie is. Marthe Villalonga plays Antoine and Emilie's mother, Berthe, from whom the two face no danger of being killed with kindness. Except in clearly marked stories of pathology, like Psycho and Mommy Dearest, a mother in a movie is almost always a director's alter ego. Given Téchiné's other examples of simplicity in the use of symbols, it is likely that the director wants us to believe that Antoine and Emilie's current troubles are a result of Berthe having turned her back on the old country ways. Indeed, Berthe's dying words to her children are one last maternal slap: "Your father always wanted you to be modern."

The precision and actorly subtlety of Deneuve, Auteuil and Villalonga shame Téchiné's too-obvious narrative gestures, such as Emilie deliberately smashing a porcelain clock to show her frustration at a loveless marriage, Antoine limping on literal crutches as he displays his neediness, and the half-clad dancing of a Moroccan character (Carmen Chaplin) brought in to contrast spontaneous, sensual life with Emilie's rigidity. Do girls still refer to lecherous boys as being "only interested in one thing"? North African characters in French movies only symbolize one thing. Ma Saison Préférée is an example of hard work performed in the service of uninvolved art. It is more engrossing than Wild Reeds but every bit as remote.

Ma Saison Préférée (Unrated; 124 min.), directed by André Téchiné, written by Téchiné and Pascal Bonitzer, photographed by Thierry Arbogast and starring Catherine Deneuve and Daniel Auteuil.

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From the June 27-July 3, 1996 issue of Metro

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