A Film a Week - Winter Brothers / Vinterbrodre

Labelled by its writer-director as a “lack of love” story, Hlynur Palmarson’s Winter Brothers explores the eternal topics of brotherly “love”, isolation and getting insane. It is centred around two brothers, both of them workers of a limestone mine and factory somewhere in the middle of nowhere, Denmark in the unspecified time frame that looks like a post-apocalyptic version of now, together with crumbling industrial facilities and containers for housing. The “normal” brother Johan (played by Simon Sears) fits well with the proletarian crowd, but has to take care of Emil (Elliott Crosset Hove), the weird one who is also providing us with the point of view.

He, however, has an ace in his sleeve: he uses the company’s chemicals to brew some booze at his home. He earns some extra income with it, seen in an early scene when he takes the riffle from an older worker as a payment, but his main goal is attention of his colleagues. When one of them ends up sick, Emil would be the first suspect especially for his boss Carl (Lars Mikkelsen, Mads’ elder brother) and the community shuns him even further. His decaying psyche will reach the point of no return. The unfounded fantasies about Anna (Victoria Carmen Sonne), as she is the only woman in the camp and the only one who does not treat him as a complete moron, will result in open conflict even with his brother.

The timeline of low-intensity events with high emotional pay-off is quite linear, but the sense we get from viewing it is elliptic and blurred. Make no mistake, Winter Brothers is a full-blown mood piece in which the plot serves only as a skeleton for imagery, sounds, emotion and pure weirdness like the riffle-shooting instructions video (supposedly British and obviously old), overwhelming male nudity (which is just a metaphor for madness in the nude as the end result of isolation and cabin fever of sorts) and even the brothers’ very physical naked fight.

Fine, that does it for “what”, but the main question here is how, and Palmarson has a genuine answer to it. The whole thing looks like Emil’s fever dream accompanied by an intriguing sound design and music by Toke Brorson Odin. Some other reasons for that feeling are rapid editing, unique locations and set decoration. The highlight of the film is its cinematography, analogue on 16 mm film and in not so boxy 5:3 ratio with rounded corners, done by Maria von Hausswolff. The palette of natural brownish colours was enriched with the usage of bluish and greyish filters for the additional sense of despair. Winter Brothers is a sure-handed debut by Palmarson, known for his award-winning shorts.

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