Title: “After Fall, Winter”
Director: Eric Schaeffer
Starring: Eric Schaeffer, Lizzie Brochere, Marie Luneau, Christian Mulot, Sylvie Loeillet, Niseema Theilland
Writer-director-actor Eric Schaeffer has made a career out of more or less channeling his offscreen insecurities, foibles and sexual appetites into what could loosely be categorized as slices of desperate-plea entertainment. His filmography behind the camera — which includes “If Lucy Fell,” “Wirey Spindell” and 1997’s critically lambasted “Fall,” to which his latest film is a quasi-sequel — is littered with movies in which he plays articulate, misunderstood, down-on-their-luck guys (often cabbies or writers, sometimes both) who bag chicks consistently out of their league and then get wound up about the impending implosion of said relationships.
Bittersweet, Paris-set romance “After Fall, Winter” (or just “Winter,” as it was at one point known) finds Schaeffer again trying to navigate a miasma of commingled narcissism and human frailties, with a pinch of the unlikely and wounded romance on display in “Never Again,” which was both his most streamlined and mature, well-observed work. Characteristically dawdling and certainly a bit implausible, the film invites a certain low-fi connection for a stretch before fumbling it away with phony details and ham-fisted sexual theatrics.
Schaeffer reprises his “Fall” role as Michael Shiver, a New York-based author now in his late 40s who is wildly in debt and near-suicidal over his present career prospects. His one big hit, “Fall,” was a quarter-century ago; his two books since barely made a ripple with the public, and his agent isn’t having any luck pitching out his latest effort. Needing an escape, Michael takes up a friend on an invitation to come spend the Christmas holiday with he and his family in Paris.
There, Michael meets cute with Sophie (Lizzie Brochere), a BDSM dominatrix who moonlights as an end-of-life counselor — or maybe it’s the other way around. At any rate, when she’s not busy smacking around doughy, pliant, middle-aged guys and twisting their genitals into a knot, Sophie sits and chats with folks preparing to slip this mortal coil. Her latest assignment is a 13-year-old leukemia patient and gypsy kid, Anais (Marie Luneau), who has no family in her life.
Full of self-loathing, Michael has a BDSM fetish himself, but the bulk of “After Fall, Winter” plays out as a (fairly) standard little romance, with Sophie at first deflecting Michael’s amorous advances, and then explaining that there is no such thing as dating anymore in France. Circling one another for a week, the pair talk openly about falling in love with one another, revealing a couple insecurities and batting back and forth opinions on sex and philosophy. Eventually, however, their secret worlds collide, with grandiose consequences.
For all his over-indulgences (which are many), Schaeffer is certainly not a dumb guy, and he has a sympathetic handsomeness that has only increased with age. His face (askew nose and all) connotes character and a kind of deep, lived-in melancholy, without him even having to say a word. His writing, too, can capture thoughtful moments that exist at the intersection of painful truth and slightly spun notions of emotional air-quote honesty. It’s a shame, then, that “After Fall, Winter” suffers to the degree that it does from myopia and self-regard. Another director with a bit more remove and perspective on the material than Schaeffer could likely vacuum it free of its egocentricity, ditch the ridiculous Shakespearean inclinations that so diminish its final reel, and deliver a more interesting and all around believable film.
The lapses in logic of “After Fall, Winter” are also many. Would a prostitute really mock Michael’s jacket and shoes, and turn away potential business? Would a creditor really kindly proactively offer and then extend a full three-month payment waiver on a statement balance of over $400,000? Would a dominatrix claim to want no mix of psychology and sex? Would Sophie tell Michael that she would have already given him a blowjob “if [he] were ten pounds lighter,” and then two minutes later go out of her way to let him know that she’s really eager to do so? Would another BDSM mistress be readily willing to murder a client? These and other narrative tidbits are fantasy constructs of Schaeffer’s, and they irreparably damage the movie’s delicate hold.
The lead performances are probably the strongest selling point for “After Fall, Winter.” Schaeffer is obviously comfortable with the material, playing an only slightly modified version of himself. Brochere, meanwhile, is charming and believably wounded, delivering an ingenue of some nuance in a performance reminiscent a bit of Melanie Laurent’s turn opposite Ewan McGregor in “Beginners.” Matthew Puckett’s string-laden score also helps ground the film, and give it a pinch of gravity.
In its most successful passages — flirty clashes of intellect and begrudgingly acknowledged attraction that recall if don’t reach the heights of Richard Linklater’s “Before Sunrise” and “Before Sunset” pictures, or some painfully frank moments of surging sexual desire or post-coital confession that owe royalties to “Last Tango in Paris” — Schaeffer’s movie seems on the verge of punching through, and being both a bit titillating and emotionally honest about some of the difficulties of adult love. The BDSM and end-of-life counselor bits, however, are unsuccessful subplots — the latter minor-chord and unpersuasive melodrama, and the former in the end just kind of a mess. Schaeffer’s “Winter” is an improvement upon his “Fall,” but it isn’t enough to make one yearn for the completion of his seasonal quadrilogy.
NOTE: In addition to its theatrical engagements, “After Fall, Winter” is available to download and rent via iTunes, Amazon, Vudu, Xbox, YouTube and directly from its distributor’s website, www.FilmBuffOnDemand.com.
Written by: Brent Simon