Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art


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PostPosted: Tue Mar 13, 2018 1:30 pm 
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HLYNUR PÁLMASON: WINTER BROTHERS/VINTERBRØDRE (2017) - NEW DIRECTORS/NEW FILMS

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Cold conflict, odd job

Reviewed by Jessica Kiang in Variety at its Locarno debut: "An isolated Danish limestone plant," Kiang notes, "provides a surreally bleached-out backdrop for a strange, exceptionally crafted 'lack-of-love' story." "First there is the darkness of a limestone mine, lit only by helmet flashlights and the occasional shower of flinty sparks from a pickax connecting with rock. And then there’s the comparative dazzle of the processing plant, bleached white by a settling of lime dust and snow. Somehow these conflicting images are rendered equivalently bleak and scuzzy in Hlynur Pálmason’s challenging, deeply weird and yet peculiarly compelling directorial debut, in which a tiny community of Danish workers, clustered around a factory in the middle of nowhere, feels so isolated and remote it could well be on the surface of the moon.. . " This unique directors intentions are not always totally clear, but the action revolves around the clashes of two brothers who work at the plant, and the dubious practice by protagonist Emil of making ultra-strong hooch from chemicals filched on the work site.
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Maybe as Kiang asserts, this film reps an "impressively original, auspiciously idiosyncratic debut" - it can be read that way with its intense, authentic limestone mine locations and macho workers, and the various sui generis sequences Pálmason inserts. These include a pissing contest; male frontal nudity, and a fight almost to the death between the two nude brothers; a card trick and a chemical trick of water to wine or clear to dark liquid; a singularly odd manner for a boss to punishing a worker; a story about a mine worker's dog loyal to the death; running video lessons by an English soldier that teach Emil how to fire an M1 rifle in combat, a skill he threatens to use.

In compliance with narrative necessity, the rifle at least gets fired, and there are strategically smashed windows. One can't help admiring the deadpan calm of Elliott Crosset Hove, the actor who plays Emil, whose resemblance to Stan Laurel gives his vicissitudes a lightness they might otherwise lack. Aki Kaurismäki might have done good things with him and with this material, had he chosen to take it on, and been Danish instead of Finnish.

However, all these elements fail to jell. The idiosyncratic scenes don't fit at all. But Kaurismäki would have known how to deal with that. What is needed is a narrative structure that makes the criminal hooch and the love triangle fit together more effectively. A striking setting, some decent actors, and oddball incidents aren't enough to meld it all together. However, there is, of course, plenty of talent and ambition here.

Winter Brothers/Vinterbrødre, 100 mins., debuted at Locarno, Aug. 2017; 17 other festival showings including Toronto, Vancouver, and London, and screened for this review as part of the 2018 Museum of Modern Art and Film Society of Lincoln Center joint series, New Directors/New Films. It runs from Mar. 28 to Apr. 8.

ND/NF showtimes:
Thursday, March 29, 9:00pm [FSLC]
Saturday, March 31, 2:00pm [MoMA]

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