Un singe en hiver (1962)
aka: It's Hot in Hell
A film directed by Henri Verneuil

Genre: Comedy / Drama

Film Review

Un singe en hiver photo
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 effective).

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 en hiver 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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Film Credits

Directed by Henri Verneuil
Starring: Jean Gabin, Jean-Paul Belmondo, Suzanne Flon, Gabrielle Dorziat, Hella Petri
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