What is Winter break, the new Alexander Payne, worth?  (critical)

What is Winter break, the new Alexander Payne, worth? (critical)

Homage to the cinema of Hal Ashby with its poignant melancholy or reliefless chronicle of the past. The new film from the director of Sideways divides the Première editorial team


“We would not have received this film in the same way if we had discovered it at the end of the 90s”, we wrote when the exciting release Misanthrope which recalled the portraits of serial killers populating the big screens at that time. This is precisely the feeling we experience in front of the new Alexander Payne which recalls the indie films of the great Miramax era (Will Hunting…) then Oscar collectors and now absent subscribers. And this Madeleine de Proust effect is reinforced by the time travel that Payne offers: a film that could have been made in the 70s where its action takes place. Winter break features a gruff and misanthropic teacher who, asked to stay and watch over the high school where he teaches during the end-of-year holidays, finds himself having to spend Christmas with one of his very gifted but totally insubordinate students and the school’s cook. establishment, bruised by the death of her son in Vietnam. And if Payne had the trigger to tell this story by discovering one day Hake by Pagnol, it is indeed the shadow of the cinema of Hal Ashby (of The Last Chore has Welcome Mister Chance) which hovers over this story. A reference that is anything but overwhelming because it pushes Payne to take his cinema to new shores. Exit the bittersweet tone, the mocking spirit at work in his previous films, from The Upstart has Nebraska. Payne 100% assumes the sentimentalist fiber of his story, plays with the expected situations and the clichés of this clash of opposites like a skater with the exercise of imposed figures. He never overpowers his characters and creates a poignant melancholy that tugs at your heart, going against the king of cynicism of our time. THE Christmas film of this year 2023.

Thierry Cheze


Payne highlighted his film with an old Universal logo seeking perfect synchronicity with the seventies context with his story. Through this effect, of which he of course does not have the prerogative, the filmmaker claims the outdated character of this high-end drama nestled in the cushioned atmosphere of quality indie cinema (intellectual environment, bourgeoisie stuck in social melodrama…). The very wise Payne is in no way a breaker of forms, he would almost be the guarantor, at least that is what he seemed to assert during a recent interview where he regretted that his peers did not try no more typical “ambitious” projects Out of Africa And The English Patient. Her Winter Break is a Christmas story set in a large American university, haunted by a professor of ancient history (!) The pedantry tinged with aggression of the tyrant (Paul Giamatti) hides, as one might suspect, a flood of repressed sadness from which can give rise to a burst of humanity. This sentimentalist outburst will be made possible thanks to a panel of outcasts, all kind (the big-hearted African-American secretary, the ultra-sensitive turbulent student rejected by his family…) What to do with such a picture where the slightest crack is immediately blocked? Payne’s Cinema (Sideways, Mr Schmidt, The Descendants…), has nothing other than a standardized vision of a world that cinema cannot upset. “ Don’t cross the Rubicon! », shouts Giamatti at the student who knocks over a trash can as a form of supreme rebellion. Payne takes care of putting it back in place himself.

Thomas Baura

Of Alexander Payne. With Paul Giamatti, Dominic Sessa, Da’Vine Joy Randolph… Duration 2h13. Released December 13, 2023

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