'The Winter': Film Review | San Sebastian 2016

Courtesy of San Sebastian Film Festival
Cristian Salguero in 'The Winter'
Sheep-herding tale, expertly shorn of originality.

Emiliano Torres' rural drama from Argentina shared runner-up honors at the Spanish festival.

The inevitability of progress is a key theme of Emiliano Torres' Argentine-French neo-western The Winter (El Invierno), a handsomely-mounted dispatch from windswept Patagonia which is more than happy to tread familiar terrain in competent, complacent fashion.

Indeed, future cine-historians researching global art-movie trends of the 2010s may find this a useful compendium of brooding slow-cinema tropes. Expertly calibrated and precisely tailored for the current requirements of the festival circuit — it shared the runner-up Special Jury Prize when bowing at San Sebastian — this is an illustration of demand dictating supply.

Economic realities thus determine and are also the main drivers of Torres' screenplay, co-written with Marcelo Chaparro. Their focus is split evenly between two laconic, inscrutable and indomitable men: thirtyish Jara (Cristian Salguero) and the much older Evans (Alejandro Sieveking). None of the other characters make more than a fleeting impression; women are noticeably peripheral.

Evans has long been foreman of a sheep-rearing estate in the far-south province of Santa Cruz; in the first few minutes, Jara arrives for a season of demanding, 5-to-5 work, having traveled thousands of miles from his home city of Corrientes on the Paraguay border. The transplanted northerner quickly proves a real natural and is promoted to increasingly responsible roles; wily Evans, quite rightly, senses that his days may finally be numbered...  

The Winter actually premiered in San Sebastian with several prizes already under its belt, having picked up top honors at work-in-progress events connected to festivals in Mexico and Colombia in 2014 and in Toulouse earlier this year, plus a trio of gongs decided by domestic Argentinian bodies. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the end product of all this "development" feels smoothed of any challenging content, shorn of any stimulating creative rough edges.

A feature-debutant he may be, but 45-year-old Torres is also an established pro. He has has more than 20 credits as assistant producer, including stints with Italy´s Emanuele Crialese, but is best known for writing two of his compatriot Daniel Burman's early successes Waiting for the Messiah (2000) and Every Stewardess Goes To Heaven (2002). The latter, a sharp little character-based comedy, made fine use of barely-populated settings on the remote Falkland Islands as captured by seasoned cinematographer Ramiro Civita.

Civita once again uses the widescreen frame to considerable effect, capturing the big-sky country of Patagonia through various seasons — including the eponymous period when Jara has been promoted to foreman and the plot´s slow-boiling machinations steadily reach their histrionic climax. This includes a life-or-death scuffle on the snow which harks subtly back to the Death Valley battle between Gibson Gowland and Jean Hersholt at the end of Erich Von Stroheim´s silent classic Greed — albeit with the mercury drastically lower in the thermometer.

Sieveking (the dementia-afflicted Father Ramirez in Pablo Larrain´s The Club) and near-newcomer Salguero make for an absorbing pair of protagonists, inscrutable hombres who, with their glowering frowns, can seem like emanations of the picturesquely bleak, chillingly elemental landscapes through which they move.

The plot in which they find themselves is two-dimensional; its execution cookie-cutter neo-arthouse. But The Winter shows that, no matter how many development labs or work-in-progress showcases a project goes through, finding one or two strong, expressive faces is sometimes all that matters.    

Production companies: Ajimolido Films, Cité Films, Wanka Cine
Cast: Cristian Salguero, Alejandro Sieveking, Adrian Fondari, Pablo Cedron, Maria Bestelli, Julio Argentino Bahamonde, Violeta Vidal
Director: Emiliano Torres
Screenwriter: Marcelo Chaparro, Emiliano Torres
Producers: Raphael Berdugo, Ezequiel Borovinsky, Alejandro Israel, Emiliano Torres
Cinematographer: Ramiro Civita
Production designer: Marina Raggio
Costume designer: Natalia Vacs
Editor: Alejandro Brodersohn
Composer: Cyril Morin
Casting director: Maria Laura Berch
Venue: San Sebastian Film Festival (Official Competition)
Sales: Cité Films, Neuilly-sur-Seine, France
In Spanish
No Rating, 97 minutes

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