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Winter Song | 2016 Rendez-Vous with French Cinema Review

Off With Head: Iosseliani Returns with Breezy Cluster of Vignettes

Otar Iosseliani Winter SongFans of Georgian auteur Otar Iosseliani will be delighted to find the octogenarian in top form with his latest effort, Winter Song (Chant d’hiver), as the filmmaker enters his sixth decade in filmmaking. Revealing a new title every five years or so, Iosseliani continues to work in French, though this latest filmed partially in Georgia as well. Lovers of his first French production, 1984’s masterful Favorites of the Moon should be pleased to note his latest is modeled via the same series of vaguely interconnected vignettes across time periods. Several notable names float around in the vast cast in this mirthful, even silly portrait of a modern Parisian apartment block unknowingly haunted and connected to the skull of a French aristocrat who met an unhappy end with the guillotine. Hardly as macabre as its grisly beginning would indicate, Iosseliani’s customary irreverence and cheeky predilection for impressive comic physicality in the vein of Tati is still very much intact.

Much like the set of Limoges china uniting the character timelines in Favorites of the Moon, human bone seems a similarly enduring substance christening Winter Song with the aristocratic skull exchanging hands until it we end up kind of wallowing amongst a particular certain neighborhood. While there’s no clearly defined focal point, we tend to gravitate towards the charming odd-couple antics of famed French character actor Rufus (a regular in the films of Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s filmography, most notably as the father of Audrey Tautou’s Amelie) and actor/director Pierre Etaix. They bumble and mumble through a series of comic interactions that seem either inspired by Jacques Tati or silent film tropes (when the film was first announced, Michel Piccoli was attached, presumably for one of these roles). Another returning Iosseliani player is Mathieu Amalric, here playing a gypsy (his role as a very young street urchin in Favorites of the Moon was his screen debut). Other notables include French director Tony Gatlif and Georgian actor Amiran Amiranashvili.

Iosseliani had stated the project was supposed to be about the ‘nonsense of revolutions,’ which is, of course, the atmosphere in which we begin. But Winter Song is also just as pointed in human behavior in-between war time. The continual displacement and harassment of homeless people and various gypsy populations is a repeated them, represented on various levels here, indicating the perverse class sanctions mankind is reduced to during times of ‘peace.’ It’s a mirror of an early sequence where a Russian army rapes and pillages a civilian warzone with nonchalance. Meanwhile, this is juxtaposed with the comfortable and the privileged, such as Etaix and Rufus mooning over the same love interest. Likewise, they’re continually tempted by a secret door opening up into a near magical garden (upon further research, this is the Rue Messier), perhaps another layer of a metaphor seemingly inspired by access and escapism the higher you are on the totem of Maslow’s hierarchy. Fans of ambitious, sprawling, free form cinema should certainly enjoy another roundelay from the effervescent touch of Otar Iosseliani, a filmmaker whose reputation is still frustratingly obscure in the US.

Reviewed on March 8th at the 2016 Rendez-Vous with French Cinema – 115 Mins.


Los Angeles based Nicholas Bell is's Chief Film Critic and covers film festivals such as Sundance, Berlin, Cannes and TIFF. He is part of the critic groups on Rotten Tomatoes, The Los Angeles Film Critics Association (LAFCA), the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and GALECA. His top 3 for 2021: France (Bruno Dumont), Passing (Rebecca Hall) and Nightmare Alley (Guillermo Del Toro). He was a jury member at the 2019 Cleveland International Film Festival.

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