Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Review: A Year Ago In Winter

A Year Ago in Winter is the follow-up to Caroline Link's Oscar winner for best foreign language film Nowhere in Africa. I haven't seen Nowhere in Africa, but I figured the director had to be worth a shot. In an interesting reversal of the norm, the German language movie was developed from an American book by Scott Campbell that has yet to be released. I always thought movies were shot in English (with an addition of a space monkey or two) developed from foreign language movies developed from foreign language books, but what do I know.

This film examines a family dealing with the loss of Alex, the youngest of two children. Much of the focus is on daughter Lilli (Karoline Herfurth), who is studying dance and singing at an arts college. Lilli's mother Elaine (Corinna Harfouch) commissions Max, a neighbor and painter played by Josef Bierbichler, to create a portrait of Lilli and her late brother. Lilli begrudgingly agrees to participate, but over time develops a friendship with Max, who is dealing with losses of his own. Meanwhile, the stress of losing their son is proving to be too much for Elaine and her husband (Hansa Czypionka), and they veer off toward separation.

Initially described as a "hunting accident", it is revealed quite early on that Alex's death was actually suicide. Eventually, Lilli takes on a bit of a quest to discover the why he took his own life, if only to relieve her own guilt of her imperfect relationship with her brother. Blame is slyly thrown around between family members, and tension boils beneath the surface.

The characters are well developed and seem real. The direction is quite good, with the one exception of a musical montage set to the Link's favorite Peter Gabriel song, which drags on a bit long. Otherwise, the film plays out quite nicely, and will certainly draw out a tear or two from you weepy sorts. If you have the means and don't mind the subtitles, I recommend catching this one if and when it comes to a theatre near you. My imdb rating: 8/10.

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