Review: Headwinds (Des vents contraires, 2011) ★★★★

Headwinds, directed by Jalil Lespert, is primarily a story about loss, and the unforeseen difficulties of living with a loved-one’s absence. The story begins by showing us the dynamic between Paul (Benoit Magimel), his wife, Sarah (Audrey Tautou), and their two children, Clement (Hugo Fernandes) and Manon (Cassiopeia Mayance). We see the tension between Paul and Sarah right from the start. Sarah is a doctor and provides the main source of income for the family, and Paul is a writer, who, while having had some success earlier in his career, now struggles to sell books. A fight breaks out when Paul wants to take a few days away from the family to write (it is implied that he has made a habit of doing this), and he feels that Sarah holds her status as the primary bread winner over his head. Their argument ends with Sarah storming out, never to be seen again. The film then skips forward in time, past Paul being the prime suspect in her disappearance and subsequently proven innocent, without any culprit or clue found. Despite the passage of time, Paul still struggles with the unsolved disappearance of his wife and the difficulty of being a single parent. He also finds that the money from book sales simply isn’t enough to support his children, so Paul’s brother, Alex (Antoine Dulery) gives him a job as a driving instructor, which introduces Paul to a variety of characters with whom he develops relationships of varying intensities. Paul also starts up a friendship with the dad of one of the boys at Clement’s school, despite the fact that the man appears a little unhinged. When the man’s son also disappears, Paul once again falls under police scrutiny.

Lespert’s somber rumination on a single-father’s struggle to cope with loss is surprisingly intimate and understated. Though there are moments in the narrative that seem a bit too coincidental, the events are generally very natural and pragmatic for the sake of moving the story forward. Benoit Magimel’s performance is exceptional, and Audrey Tautou adds her usual touch of brilliance to the film; it’s just unfortunate that she has so little screen time. We get to see her briefly before the disappearance, and then from time to time in flashbacks, but obviously it would have been better if she had occupied a greater role in the film. Nonetheless, Jalil Lespert clearly knows how to direct his actors, and generally shies away from the typical sentimentalism that goes along with film’s about the loss of a loved one.

Headwinds takes special care to consider the many existential crises that accompany a situation like Paul’s. The possibility of Sarah still being alive serves as both a specter hanging over Paul and a glimmer of hope in his gloomy life. Since he does not know if his wife is living or dead, he feels guilty about pursuing a new relationship; however, Paul still loves Sarah, so even the chance of her being alive brightens his family’s spirits. Though Paul loves his children, he struggles to meet the many demands of being a single parent, and, without the freedom to continue his writing, Paul lacks the meaning and satisfaction that he had found in his former work. Thus, Paul is turned into a tired shell of a person, unable to lead a fulfilling life, and unable to move on from his memories of Sarah.

Paul still loves his wife deeply, but her absence weighs on him every day (Headwinds, 2011)

The film also draws our attention to the frailty of human life. At one moment, a loved one is there, sharing their lives with yours, and the very next, they are gone. Ours is an existence that is both brief and fragile. Lives are taken without warning, and in some cases, without any answers as to what really happened. Such is the dilemma in Headwinds. It paints life as a series of barriers to contentment; Paul is constantly faced with a new problem to overcome, which adds to the growing weight on his shoulders. Although the ending is somewhat uplifting, Headwinds is ultimately a film about how little control we have over our lives, and how we should appreciate those close to us while we still can, because we never know when they might leave us forever.

Headwinds is currently available to stream on Netflix.

Rating: ★★★★  out of 5

 

 

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