A teenage boy struggles to recover from tragedy in Christophe Honoré’s Winter Boy
17 year old Lucas is content at boarding school with his boyfriend when his world is thrown into disarray in the middle of the night. His father has been killed in a sudden accent, and he must return home to join his mother, older brother and mourning extended family. The shock of loss causes Lucas to question his own place in the world, as he struggles to carry on with day to day life and connect to those around him. Winter Boy is a French language drama from writer/director Christophe Honoré, it is playing as part of the BFI London Film Festival ahead of a general release in November.
It’s a film that touches on familiar themes for many. Whilst several of Honoré’s previous films have focused on queer relationships and coming of age stories, centering this one around the loss of a parent gives it a grim familiarity that endears its central character to the viewer, as we follow him on a non-linear journey through grief and all it’s expressions. Lucas is playing by newcomer Paul Kircher in a bare all performance; joined by the excellent Juliette Binoche as his mother Isabelle and Vincent Lacoste as older brother Quentin they make a very strong family unit.
Winter Boy takes a languid pace for its 2 hour runtime, often feeling like its meandering with no real purpose before hitting the viewer with a gut punch of unexpected drama. Whilst Lucas is initially numb to the death of his father, he soon starts to feel overwhelmed at the sudden press of family in his house and chooses to leave for a week in Paris with his older brother. As Quentin is too busy with work to entertain him Lucas is left to wander the streets of Paris, moping around churches and museums before entertaining himself with casual hook ups and flirting with Quentin’s roommate Lilio (a quietly expressive Wilfried Capet.)
It’s a times a frustrating watch. Winter Boy is framed by a narration from Lucas throughout who speaks directly into the camera, explaining his mindset as we watch his actions take place in the past tense. Where his thoughts about life, the universe and everything are probably supposed to come off as profound they have all the depth of a teenage boys first attempts at poetry and I couldn’t help being irritated at how pretentious he felt, infusing commonplace feelings and events with world ending melodrama.
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Yet as the film drew on, I felt myself soften to Lucas’ story. Watching him make a dizzying, escalating array of poor choices, it started to ring with genuine authenticity as it reminded me of all the stupid things we’ve all done as teenagers, when we thought the trials in our own lives were the absolute darkest in the universe and we’d do anything for someone else to take notice. There are some weak threads in the writing – thoughts and ideas that lead up to Lucas’ ‘crisis moment’ that could have been better explored – yet there’s a rawness to the emotion that Winter Boy tries to capture that works really well.
Winter Boy feels like if Call Me By Your Name was directed by Xavier Dolan, with more death, less sunshine but the same amount of mopey existentialism. An alternately shocking and heartbreaking look at grief and growing up, it’s a slow burn that will sneakily get it’s hooks into your heart even as you’re thinking ‘chill out man it’s not that bad.’