Film Review: A Year Ago in Winter

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Marrakech International Film Festival

MARRAKECH, Morocco -- A moving film about coping with death and loss, "A Year Ago in Winter" by Caroline Link, 2003 foreign-langauge Oscar winner for "Nowhere in Africa," is a wonderful arthouse fare with immense crossover potential. Painting and poetry, music and melancholy breathe out of the frames in a smoothly crafted work that describes and dissects the angst of a Bavarian family.

Evenly paced, almost unhurried, the work begins with the suicide of teenage Alexander (Cyril Sjostrom). A year later, his grieving mother, Eliane Richter (Corinna Harfouch), commissions painter Max Hollander (Josef Bierbichler) to do the portraits of Alexander and his elder sister, Lilli (Karoline Herfurth), a pretty and talented ballerina. While Lilli would sit for Max, he would have to use home movies and photographs for Alexander.

So starts the central story, and as Lilli begins her sessions and Max's canvas starts to come alive with color, repressed feelings emerge. Each stroke of the brush draws the characters a little more out of their shells. There is a tense underlying attraction between Lilli and Max, even as he grapples with a reawakening of heterosexual desire after his erotic feelings for a man. Ultimately the artistic expression helps the players to get on to a path of emotional recovery. Lilli's parents split, and she herself is able to control her wild sexual passion.

Link has a good cast. Herfurth plays the striking beauty tormented by the loss of her brother whom she secretly adored, while Bierbichler is extremely effective as a man wounded by his own troubled relationships and who feels reinvigorated by his attractive young subject. Barring a few overdone scenes (as the one that shows Eliane weeping in the woods), the film is controlled and intense, and lensed marvelously.

Production Companies: Bavaria Film and Constantin Film
Cast: Karoline Herfurth, Josef Bierbichler, Corinna Harfouch, Hanns Zischler and Cyril Sjostrom.
Director/screenwriter: Caroline Link.
Based on a novel by: Scott Campbell.
Executive Producers: Robert Cort, Scarlett Lacey.
Producers: Uschi Reich, Martin Moszkowicz.
Director of photography: Bella Halben.
Production designer: Susann Bieling.
Music: Niki Reiser.
Costume Designer: Barbara Grupp.
Editor: Patricia Rommel.
Sales agent: Celluloid Dreams
No rating, 128 minutes.
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