A Monkey in Winter (1962) - Plot Summary Poster


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  • Albert is an inn owner who vowed never to drink again if he and his wife survived the war. They did, and the reformed alcoholic keeps his vow. But times have changed and soon after the war, Albert comes in contact with Gabriel, a young man prone to heavy bouts with the bottle. Gabriel is conflicted over visiting his young daughter in a nearby school and in a moment of nostalgia, Albert takes off with him on one major binge -- and havoc results.


The synopsis below may give away important plot points.


  • 1944 in the small town of Tigreville on the coast of Normandy, in France. A large troop of German soldiers is watching the place. But, on the top of a hill near the beach, two Frenchmen are drinking in a bar with a fake Chinese look. The place is actually a brothel run by Georgina (Hella Petri) who is definitely not Chinese !

    The two men, in their forties, are Albert Quentin (Jean Gabin) and Lucien Esnault (Paul Frankeur).When Georgina enters the bar, they are already very drunk. She asks them not to mess everything as they apparently did the last time they were drunk. When he is drunk, Albert thinks he is back in China, where he was a sailor in the French Navy. He talks, with a certain nostalgia, about the Yang-Tse-Kiang (or Yangtze River), and his life in China.

    But they are interrupted by the sirens. Allies planes are flying over Tigreville. All the German officers, who were in the hookers' rooms on the first floor, run down the staircase, with Albert making fun of them.

    Albert and Lucien walk out of the bar, and hide to avoid the bombs dropped by the planes. When the bombing slows down a bit, they start walking downhill toward the town, to their homes and their wives.

    The town is in a bad shape : it has been hit by a lot of bombs, and many houses are in ruins. Albert and Lucien cross the town.

    Later in the night, Albert, still drunk, is hiding in the cellar of the small hotel, the «Stella Hotel», which he owns with his wife Suzanne (Suzanne Flon). He is looking at the German troops running around in the street through the open window, and sings «It's a long way to Tipperary». Suzanne is a bit worried about this provocative attitude, but Albert keeps on drinking and even laughing when a bomb, falling nearby, sends a shower of plaster from the ceiling.

    But another bomb shuts the light off, and, in the dark, Suzanne starts crying. Albert lights a candle, and promises Suzanne that, if their hotel is not broken down by a bomb, he will never drink anymore.

    Fifteen years later, the war is long over and the «Hotel Stella» is working again.

    We are October 28, it is raining and one lonely passenger, Gabriel Fouquet (Jean-Paul Belmondo), comes out of Deauville train station. He takes a taxi to Tigreville and asks the driver about a hotel in the town. The driver tells him that, at this time of the year, the only hotel still open is the «Stella Hotel».

    When they reach the hotel, all the lights are out, and they have to wake up Albert, who gives room number eight to Gabriel. Gabriel asks him about a drink and Albert answers mineral waters. Gabriel doesn't want them and Albert goes back to his own room, where Suzanne asks him questions about Gabriel. Albert doesn't answer and goes back to bed. But, a minute later, he has to get out of bed, because Gabriel is walking downstairs.

    Gabriel is evidently looking around for a drink, but finding nothing, walks out of the hotel.

    He crosses the street to the «Café Normand», a bistro owned by Lucien Esnault. Inside the café, there are still quite a number of customers, mostly men and mostly sailors. He asks Simone, the waitress (Anne-Marie Coffinet), for a «Picon-Bière», an old fashioned mixture of beer and bitters. Then he asks her for a number in Madrid. Lucien, who was eating with his wife, comes to the bar to ask the number to the operator.

    While they are waiting for the operator to call back, the two men start drinking together, and Gabriel asks Lucien about Albert. Lucien explains that Albert used to be a heavy drinker, and that, all of a sudden, for an unknown reason, he stopped drinking. And more, he also stopped talking to Lucien and to all their other mutual friends. The customers of the bar explain to Gabriel that Albert is a very strange man indeed, who reads books from poet like Appolinaire, and did his military service in China. One of the customer, an old man wearing a beret (Lucien Raimbourg), is even more talkative than the other ones.

    The telephone rings. Lucien answers it and gives it to Gabriel who listens to his girlfriend Claire talking, but doesn't talk to her, and eventually puts the phone down on its hook.

    Meanwhile, Albert is watching the «Café Normand» from his window. He tells Suzanne Gabriel went there to find what can't be found in their hotel anymore. And then he says he doesn't mind because he has his candies to replace alcohol, but nevertheless he gives a long nostalgic look at the picture of himself as a sailor in China.

    Slightly later, in the «Café Normand», Gabriel is very drunk. He keeps on drinking and hardly listens to the jokes around him, among them one from a very old lady, Joséphine (Hélène Dieudonné), who tells the customers how, during the war, she wrote the Kommandantur about all the «bad people» in Tigreville. But, when he hears some men calling Tigreville the Norman California, he stands up and tells them they don't know a thing about what sun really is. He jumps on a table and starts dancing a flamenco.

    Actually when he is drunk, he thinks he is a Spanish toreador. After his dance, he starts breaking the glasses and Lucien kicks him out of the bistro. He stumbles a few steps in the street, and then falls down and remains lying in the middle of the street. Lucien sends the old man with the beret to help him.

    The old man helps him to stand up and then brings him to the door of the hotel, which Gabriel thinks to be the Madrid train station. Inside the hotel, he tries to climb the staircase to his room, but falls down and wakes up Albert and Suzanne. Albert walks downstairs to help him up the stairs, and then into his room.

    Inside his room, Gabriel wants to invite Albert to a last drink, but Albert tells him he doesn't drink. Gabriel tells him about Madrid and Claire, his girlfriend who has left him. Then he takes a tablecloth and mime a toreador fighting a bull. Albert watches him with a strange look on his face, and tells Gabriel he knows all about if. He explains that he used to drink, and when he was drunk, he would be back in China on the Yangtze river. But Gabriel falls asleep and Albert leaves the room.

    Next morning, on the fishing-harbor of Tigreville, Albert is buying fish for the restaurant of his hotel, when he meets Lucien, who complains about Gabriel breaking twelve glasses in his bistro. Albert answers that Gabriel is not an average drunkard, like the usual customers of Lucien's bistro, but a prince among the drinking people, someone an asshole like Lucien is unable to understand. In a last gesture of anger, Albert buys all the fishes the fisherman is selling, so that there won't be any left for Lucien.

    Meanwhile, in the hotel, Marie-Jo, waitress and chambermaid (Geneviève Fontanel), is bringing the breakfast tray in Gabriel's bedroom. But Gabriel is not hungry, and asks about Albert's reaction to what happened during the night. Marie-Jo answers Albert has not talked about it.

    Downstairs, in the dining-room, Suzanne is very surprised by the amount of fish bought by Albert. Gabriel enters the room and wants to apologize for the noise he made during the night, but Albert doesn't want to hear about it. Then Gabriel remembers something Albert said about the Yangtze river. Gabriel walks out of the hotel, but Suzanne, worried about Albert mentioning the Yangtze, follows Gabriel.

    She catches up with Gabriel and tells him that, talking about the Yangtze is bad for Albert. But Gabriel answers that he doesn't care about China, being only interested by Spain. Then he asks her where he could buy clothes for a child. She tells him to go to «Le Chic Parisien», a shop owned by a man nicknamed Landru, because of his beard and the fact that both his wives are dead.

    Actually Landru is not only selling clothes in his shop, but many other different things, like beach items, toys, postcards, carnival masks, gardening equipment, etc. Gabriel asks him for a sweater for a ten-year old girl, and Landru shows him what he claims to be a unique sample, designed especially for a very famous dwarf artist, who never came to get it. When Gabriel inquires about the numerous boxes of fireworks piled up in the back of the shop, Landru tells him they were ordered by a American millionaire in love with the dwarf artist.

    Gabriel, with the sweater wrapped in a parcel, walks to a boarding school for young girls, the «Cours Dillon», where he meets the old man with the beret, who helped him, the night before, to go back to his hotel. He asks the man, who works in the place as a handyman or odd-job man, to give the sweater to a young girl, but the man doesn't want to take it, and Georgette (Marcelle Arnold), who works as a nurse in the school, takes Gabriel with her inside the building.

    There, he asks her to give the parcel to Marie Fouquet, pretending he is not the girl's father but a remote cousin ! They are interrupted by the arrival of Madame Victoria (Gabrielle Dorziat), the director, on her wheelchair. Even though she is hundred percent French, she talks only in English, because it sounds better for the snobbish parents of the school. She asks Georgette to go and fetch Marie, and wheels out of the room.

    But when Marie Fouquet (Sylviane Margollé) rushes downstairs with the open parcel in her hands, her father is already gone.

    In the evening, Albert and Suzanne are in the cellar, checking the stock of wines. Suzanne tells her husband she has the feeling he is not quite the same since Gabriel's arrival. He gets slightly mad at her and then he reassures her : he is still not interested by alcohol, because he has his candies.

    They walk upstairs, where they found Gabriel on the phone, explaining new projects to his partner. Gabriel is in the advertising business. Then he goes to his table in the dining-room. Actually, he is the only customer, the other table, at the other side of the room, being occupied by Albert and Suzanne. Suzanne asks him to join them at their table. Albert gets a bottle of good wine for him and Suzanne, but does not share it with them.

    Next morning, Albert and Gabriel are on the beach, collecting shellfishes for the paella Gabriel wants to cook for his hosts. They talk about Gabriel's alcoholism, which is apparently one of the reasons why Claire left him. Then Gabriel tells him about his daughter, and Albert, who never had a child, tells him he should take care of her.

    As they walk on the beach, the little girls from the Cours Dillon come in to play. Albert, before leaving, tells Gabriel to go and try to talk to his daughter. The girls start playing hide-and-seek, and Gabriel hides in a disused German blockhouse to watch them. His daughter Marie is left alone on the beach, eyes closed, while the other girls are hiding. Two girls hide in the blockhouse, even though it had been forbidden by the teacher in charge of the group. Gabriel, hidden a bit further in the blockhouse, hears the two girls discussing Marie, and saying nothing but naughty things about her.

    In the evening, Albert, Suzanne and Gabriel are gathered around the dinner-table and have just finished eating Gabriel's paella. Suzanne has drunk too much white wine and wants to show Gabriel Albert's collection of train-timetables. And Gabriel learns that Albert is leaving the following day in the evening to go to his parents' grave. He seems a little sad about it and tells his host he wants to go out for a little walk.

    Next day is an unusual busy day for the season in Tigreville. There is going to be a celebration and many tourists, English, American and German, are coming into the town. It is lunchtime at the «Hotel Stella» and the dining-room is crowded. Suzanne tells her husband that she hasn't seen Gabriel yet, but Albert doesn't seem to care, until the old man with the beret comes in and tells him there is a serious problem with Gabriel.

    Actually, Gabriel is completely drunk and he is standing in the middle of the road at the entrance of the town, playing the toreador, with his jacket as a cape, and the cars as bulls to fight. Fortunately, the cars have succeeded so far in avoiding him. A crowd is gathered around him, seeming to enjoy this unusual show. Albert walks in, and takes him away.

    They both enter the town by the main street, followed by the crowd. When they reach the gendarmerie (a sort of local police station), Maurice (André Dalibert), the brigadier, (or sergeant), who is a long-time friend of Albert, takes Gabriel inside the station, and Albert follows him. Albert explains to Maurice that Gabriel has just drunk a bit too much, and that he, Albert, is going to take him back to his hotel. Maurice agrees to let Gabriel go if Albert promises he won't cause any more trouble.

    Outside, Gabriel is a little less drunk and starts feeling ashamed of himself. He wants to have a last drink and Albert takes him to the «Chinese» bar where he uses to go fifteen years before. Georgina is still in charge of the bar and she seems very pleased to see Albert after all these years.

    Hours later, dinner is over in the restaurant of the Stella hotel, and Suzanne is still waiting for Albert to come back. Marie-Jo has been looking everywhere for him but hasn't found him.

    Actually Albert is still drinking with Gabriel in the «Chinese» bar and they are both very drunk. Albert is drunk enough to be a sailor in the French Navy based in China, and Gabriel is drunk enough to be in the bullring in Madrid. Albert pays for the drinks and they both go out.

    They start singing and dancing down the hill from the «Chinese bar», and they are still singing and dancing when they reach the street where the Stella hotel is located. Suzanne is in bed but she doesn't sleep and she recognizes her husband's voice.

    Albert and Gabriel enters Lucien's bistro and walk to the counter to order Calvados (a hard Norman liquor made from apple juice). Albert comes to greet them with open arms, but Gabriel pretends not to know him. When Lucien starts insulting Gabriel, Albert gives Lucien a good punch in the nose. Lucien falls down on the floor, and his wife wants to call the police. Albert and Gabriel walk out of the bistro without paying for their drinks.

    Outside, Albert wants to bring Gabriel to his parent's grave, but Gabriel answers he has to get his daughter first, because he knows she is not happy at the Cours Dillon. Albert agrees to go with him and they start singing and dancing again in the street, but are interrupted by angry neighbors.

    When they arrive at the Cours Dillon, Gabriel wants to climb the gate to get in, but the gate is not locked. They walk to the main building and ring the bell to wake everybody up. Georgette opens the door and seems shocked to see that Albert has been drinking again after all those years of abstinence. Albert explains, in military language, that he wants Marie Fouquet with her suitcase within the following five minutes. The director, Madame Victoria, comes in on her wheelchair and tells them that Marie will be brought to them in the morning, when they are in better shape.

    They leave the building and, in the park, they look at the night sky and wish they had some colors to paint it. Then Gabriel remembers about the fireworks in Landru's shop.

    Landru agrees to sell them his fireworks, but he wants to come with them to help them using them. They load all the boxes on a cart and pull it toward the beach, where they start setting the fireworks, which wakes up the whole town of Tigreville, who comes running to the beach. The gendarmes are also awaken by the fireworks and they rush to the beach, not to watch, but to stop the three men doing it. When they see the gendarmes coming down on them, the three men sneak off in the dark.

    Next morning, Albert and Gabriel wake up in a disused German blockhouse. They climb up from the beach, where they meet a celebration with French, English and American officials. An English officer is thanking the mayor of Tigreville for the splendid fireworks the town gave them during the night !

    In the hotel, Marie is waiting for her daddy, whom she kisses when he enters the hotel. Albert tells Suzanne he is going to take the 3 p.m. train to go to his parent's grave.

    Suzanne drives her husband, Gabriel and Marie to the Deauville train station, where they board the train to Paris. Albert has to get off at Lisieux to take another train. But, before he leaves, he tells Marie a story, which gave the film its title. Here is the story :

    «In China, when the winter gets very cold, many young orphan monkeys get trapped in the cities. As the Chinese believe that even monkeys have a soul, they bring the monkeys back to their native forests. So, in wintertime, the trains get crowded with young monkeys going back to the jungle.»

    The train stops in Lisieux. Albert gets off the train and sits on a bench without looking at Gabriel and Marie, standing at the open window of their train compartment. The train starts leaving the station and Marie asks her father if Albert had already seen monkeys lost in the winter. Gabriel answers that he thinks he has at least seen one

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