Eye For Film >> Movies >> Winter Brothers (2017) Film Review
Reviewed by: Rory Ford
Hylynur Palmason's debut feature is already garlanded with awards and nominations from the writer-director's native Iceland to America. Yet it's an oddly tortuous, unedifying examination of brotherhood in a remarkably bleak environment.
Shot - on 16mm - in the Danish limestone mining town of Faxe, it's curiously reminiscent of fellow Icelander Dagur Karl's 2003 critical success Noi The Albino but without that mov,ie's winning sense of humour. Emil (a convincing Elliot Crosset Hove) and Johan (Simon Sears) are brothers earning their livings in the mines while sharing a grim portakabin for a home. Johan is everything Emil is not; good looking, well-adjusted and paired with a woman (Victoria Carmen Sonne) who Emil spies upon and occasionally steals knickers from. Emil also steals chemicals from the plant to make illicit liquor which sounds highly dangerous and indeed proves to be so when one of the miners is hospitalised due to an overdose. This is, if anything, even grimmer than it sounds.
Palmason accentuates the tedium by holding almost every shot far longer than necessary or shooting scenes in pitch black mines or against stark landscapes white with lime dust. Emil's warmest relationship is with a rifle he acquires from a local pack rat while his fraternal one is fractious at best. "We all have a little darkness in us," Emil asserts to Johan. “I don't.” “You do, you're just too boring to realise.” This is ironic since it's only the endless grinding tedium that seems the likely cause of Emil's maladjustment. There is simply no other possible reason presented as there's a fatal lack of intellectual curiosity in Palmason's script.
Called to account for his toxic liquor, Emil's foreman (Lars Mikkelsen - brother of Mads) forces him to drink a bottle of the potentially lethal stuff then has his crew toss his unconscious body out of a first floor window onto a hill of dust (wouldn't HR have something to say about all this?). Being laid off just gives Emil more time to spend at home with his rifle - and his brother's girlfriend once he sets off for work but her remarkably forgiving attitude to the errant lingerie thief stretches credulity beyond any reasonable limits.
The film begins as it ends - in the dark. The audience none the wiser too. Perhaps it's meant to be like one of Emil's homemade chemistry experiments - an exercise in the elimination of pleasure from cinema. In that respect, at least, it can claim a degree of success.Reviewed on: 14 Apr 2018