Ma Saison Preferee (My Favorite Season, Techine, 1993)

a flash review: reflections

Emilie and Antoine

In the moment when i was sitting, for i was late for about fifteen minutes from the start of Andre Techine's Ma Saison Preferee, i was actually thinking of the coldness around and how it was reflected by the film which i, daresay, so strange, so personal and piercing i cannot imagine how i would write a flash review about it.

Sunday night, two days after the opening of the 14th French Film Festival in Manila, i sat there with a friend of mine in front of the theater.

Andre Techine and Ma Saison Preferee

Techine is a second batch of Cahiers du Cinema's critic-turned-prolific filmmaker . He is so talented, in context of Ma Saison Preferee, that i actually think he invented something potent to contribute in the drama genre.

Ma Saison Preferee (My Favorite Season) having received a great acclaim after being nominated for Palme d'Or last 1993 (the time when Jane Campion's The Piano and Chen Kaige's Farewell my Concubine won the palm) is a complex story about two siblings, Emilie, a provincial lawyer, and Antoine, a neurosurgeon, who are re-united to deal with the dread of their mother's stroke and future death.

During the course of my viewing i actually made notes of the stylistic techniques Techine used and to actually relate to the overall narrative of the film.

Cinematic Style

Mise-en-scene revolves around certain decor and landscapes which has an absurd bearing on color. On occasions, there have been an appeal to color which tend to be surrealistic and 'oppressed' or even less charged. For example, when the mother figure, Berthe fell down at the backyard of her house in Toulouse, a village in France, there was a POV shot composed in a medium close-up with a dark red berries that seemed to sway in the breeze. The significance of the scene demonstrates the tendencies of the film to appeal to images which are mundane yet expressionistic and even 'fantastical' somewhat illogical to progressive realism it tries to depict.

Techine did this perhaps to invoke the audience of the possibility of cinema to transform themes into numerous ways even if it leaps through illogical instances. These notable transformations can be achieve by destroying the coherence of the narrative, somewhat an anti-narrative device.


The inclusion of 'fantastical' shots blended with the flow of the narrative was exhibited during the 4th episode (4: RETURN) when Emilie, sitting in lounge at Antoine's hospital, was in the process of accepting that her mother, Berthe, had a brain hemorrhage and was in the process of dying.

A clip from Ma Saison Preferee,
observe the 'fantastical' elements at work

There are three 'fantastical' elements shown:

(1) A stranger, probably a physician at the hospital, seduces her
(2) Talking to her mother and her father sitting beside the river
(3) The stranger had sexual intercourse with her on the bench beside the river

These three aspects are essentially relevant to the film's distinct spatio-temporal arrangement. These scenes are interlaced with the real diegetic world of Emilie but are significantly off-hooked because of its detachment to the flow of the narrative, as if these particular images are disruptions to the coherence of the story.

Why are these 'fantastical' elements significant and how are they achieved?

Excluding these 'fantastical' elements from the narrative, it is observable that Techine, employed mainly continuity editing. It is divided into four chapters temporally arrange it such a way to follow the struggle of the whole family from the announcement of Berthe's stroke to the death of Berthe. The temporal construction demands continuity editing, which is of course, in the historical context, a technique common in 90s French cinema drama. Hollywood 90s extensively use this editing primarily both in art cinemas and mainstream cinemas. Techine has in a way incorporated this technique by convention and has certainly appealed to these conventions as how drama filmmakers of that era did. However, Techine somewhat shifted this conventional use of continuity editing by incorporating these 'fantastical' elements, and has certainly challenged perspectives on it.

The placement of the 'fantastical' elements is narrative-motivated. It is perhaps notable to say that these images occurred during the times when Emilie is emotional and has been undergoing a lot of stress (her mother's sickness and her family's coldness to her). The element is placed significant to the narrative spatio-temporal inflections. This device is employed in reference to the character's mental state of mind, possibly the actualization of her thoughts and repressed feelings to here immediate surroundings.

The technique, 'fantastical' elements merged with the narrative to depict character's mind, has been employed throughout film history notably on the German Expressionistic era specifically on the film The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920). The use of 'fantastical' elements in Dr. Caligari are clearly of this mode, to depict the characters' state of mind during the emotional inflections of the narrative. However, in Dr. Caligari's usage, it was constructed mainly as a stylistic device from the experimentation of the filmmmakers in opposition to the realistic ventures of the conventional filmmaking in the 1920s silent era in Europe. The non realism element of the usage of this technique in the German Expressionistic era differentiates how Techine used it because he devised it in a realistic mode.

Because realism has been a noted mode on drama films. On a modern drama film, by convention, feelings are depicted externally through outward scenes of standard emotions such as the characters crying when distressed, laughing when jovial, frowning when anxious. Techine incorporated the 'fantastical' element to depict the same intention, the elucidation of the character's thoughts and emotions unconventional to modern drama films because of its non realistic appeal over a realistic narrative structure.


Techine, in his Ma Saison Preferee, has achieved an innovation on continuity editing in drama films and has effectively use 'fantastical' elements to show the complex emotional structure of his characters. Techine coherently melded it into the narrative and created a distinct style in storytelling, quiet reminiscent of the speaking dagger in Shakespeare's Macbeth.

I sat there inside the cinema amazed, if not euphoric, of how the film actually worked with its idiosyncratic and melodic techniques. And it did work well.

NOTE: Additional comments on other techniques shall be discussed later...

Noel Vera has a take on this (here).