Winter Stories
Seville Pictures // Unrated // $21.38 // December 12, 2006
Review by Francis Rizzo III | posted March 13, 2007
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In 10 Words or Less
A boy's life in hockey-mad 1960s Quebec

Reviewer's Bias*
Loves: Hockey
Likes: Quirky coming-of-age stories
Dislikes: Les Habs
Hates: Having sat through this movie

The Movie
I love hockey. Most of America doesn't. I am not Canadian. Most of Canada is. Therefore, most of Canada loves hockey. (Thus explains my bad math grades throughout school.) So, a coming of age story about a small-town kid in love with the Montreal Canadiens (or the New York Yankees of hockey), would seem like a perfect piece of entertainment for Canada, and by extension, me. Add in the fact that this is a quirky little tale about growing-up in a small town, a film sub-genre I greatly enjoy (with Simon Birch being one of my favorites), and I really should have gotten into Winter Stories. But I definitely didn't.

The star of the show is Martin, a young boy in the outer reaches of 1960s Quebec, who adores "Rocket" Richard and the Canadiens. Martin loves hockey, a passion he shares with his uncle Maurice, but not his father, who is busy learning English to get ahead at work. Unfortunately for Martin, he lives three hours away from Montreal and tickets to the games are scarce, so he can't see his heroes in person. Instead he spends his days collecting hockey cards and playing street hockey and watching hockey on TV, and doing all the usual kid stuff like school and dealing with the local bully. He's also got the attention of a new neighbor, Veronique, who plays goalie, making her the ultimate woman to a 12-year-old.

Truthfully, that's pretty much the whole story. There are bits and pieces of comedy and drama spread throughout the film, as the quest for Canadiens tickets progresses, and a subplot involving a rare hockey card turns friend against friend, but the main story, spread over 105 minutes, is just not that interesting. Perhaps if Martin was more of an active part of the quest, it would work, but things seem to only happen to him. There are characters on the screen for mere minutes who affect the story more than Martin.

There's an attempt to craft a quirky little cast of characters around Martin, an important part of serio-comic coming of age stories like this. Unfortunately, it never quite works, as the film has no real interest in what these people do, regarding them simply as another person in Martin's life. For example, there's a hippie teacher at his school who is obviously intended to teach Martin a life lesson, but it just doesn't mean anything, as there's no real effect on the character. The direction and cinematography is much better than the story, as the look of the film is very nice, and the visually, the story moves smoothly, with some real style.

If you're an English-speaking person like me, you're not likely to enjoy the awkward dub job done on this film. From the way French-Canadian names like Martin and Maurice are mispronounced, to the badly voice-acted dramatic moments, to the unacceptable translation that results in ill-fitting dialogue, the whole effort only detracts from the film. The DVD producers could have simply put an English subtitle track on the French audio and reached the same audience, but perhaps impress that audience a bit.

Packed in a standard keepcase, this one-disc release is one of the odder DVDs I've seen in my time as a reviewer. Essentially, if you're of the English-language persuasion, you're out of luck, as all you get is a 4:3 transfer and a Dolby Digital 2.0 track. If you parle Francais though, you get an anamorphic widescreen transfer and your choice of a Dolby Digital 5.1 or 2.0 track, but there's no English subtitles for you to watch in widescreen. So, anyone not versed in French is merde out of luck if they want to see this film in an optimal presentation. There's no closed captioning either.

The Quality
If I spoke fluent French, instead of the mongrel conversational French I spit out, I'd say this is a OK-looking anamorphic widescreen transfer that has quality color, a nice level of detail, a touch of softness and, unfortunately some noticeable bits of dirt and, during darker scenes, grain and haloing. But since I can't tell you how Quebecers say "barbeque sauce," I was stuck with a bastardized full-frame transfer that has the same qualities as the widescreen version, just with less of that gauzy image.

Once again, I could have appreciated the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack if I knew all the words to "Alouette," but instead, the Ugly American got a 2.0 track that is OK, delivering the dialogue clearly and crisply, in a center-focused mix. The French track is strong, with some minor enhancement on the music and some atmospheric effects in spots, but it sounded like a bunch of noise to these uncultured ears.

The Extras
Not a one to be had.

The Bottom Line
Though I never thought it could happen, I've found a hockey movie that I don't want to watch again. The story of Martin and his love for Les Habs is too slow, too aimless and too uneventful to enjoy, despite some solid visuals and attempts at giving the young Canuck a quirky supporting cast. Though there are no extras included, the DVD looks and sounds quite nice...if you speak French, which doesn't help most of you reading this review. But at least it's one less temptation for you to check out this film.

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