Un singe en hiver
is a gentle comedy which takes a melancholic view of friendship,
nostalgia and drink. It was based on a popular novel by the French writer Antoine
Blondin. The film's classic status stems mainly from Verneuil's inspired decision
to cast Jean Gabin and Jean-Paul Belmondo, the iconic standard-bearers for two different
generations of French cinema, in the principal roles. Gabin and Belmondo play off
each other perfectly, their on-screen rapport offering a very visible testimony of their
off-screen friendship. (It is reported that Gabin became an active participant in
friendly football matches which Belmondo organised during the location work for this film.)
Where the film is most effective and most poignant is in the way it brings together two
very different characters, who, like lost children, forge a friendship that affords them
a brief respite from their unsatisfying lives. Another of the film's pleasures is
the deliciously tongue-in-cheek dialogue, provided by one of France cinema's most popular
and talented screenwriters, Michel Audiard.
Although it looks a little flat and stagy when compared with the films the New Wave directors
of the day were putting out, Un singe en hiver
does have its charms. Brimming
with manic energy, the youthful Belmondo brings a touch of anarchy to the film - the scene
where he plays bullfighter to some irate motorists in a busy road offers a hint of the
kind of madcap stunts which would earn him his reputation. Gabin's professionalism
and unceasing ability to play any character à la perfection
gives the film
its quality feel and its striking humanism (the last scene of the film being devastatingly
Although it has some shortcomings (Michel Magne's music is far too intrusive, and the
budgetary limitations are all too apparent in the film's opening chapter), Un singe
is overall a satisfying and memorable film. It is perceptive, witty,
and is held together by an indefinable sense of poetry, providing a wistful but not depressing
meditation on life.
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