A sensitive, intimate film opened the German Currents series at the Aero Theatre in Santa Monica last night, “A Year in Winter” by Academy Award-winner Caroline Link (Nowhere in Africa). The movie explores grief and the process of mourning as well as the intricacy of relationships. Although it deals with very strong emotions, it keeps a certain delicacy and modesty throughout.
We have five main characters: 22 year old Lili, strong-willed, talented dancer but rebellious, her father, her mother, her brother Alex, deceased a year earlier, and Max, the painter who is commissioned by the mother to paint a portrait of Lili and her brother. Lili is first very resistant to this “creepy” idea. However, a therapeutic relationship emerges between the two and Max ends up maybe revealing Lili not just on the canvas but also to herself and perhaps to her parents. He awakens the characters to the feelings they have not been willing or able to confront, he is the catalyst who enables them to embrace the pain, face the guilt that holds them back in the past and move forward with their lives. Isn’t the role of the artist to slow down time for us and allow us to feel our emotions and reflect instead of rushing through life?
The film is also very rich with other themes. We are shown the complexity of Lili’s relationship with her brother which encompasses great love but also competitiveness, curiosity and an inevitable gap, the inability to truly understand one another. The relationship between Lili and her parents, especially her mother, is no less complex. Parental pressure, rebelliousness, and the inability to express emotions are part of it.
Another important theme is this young woman’s exploration of love, of attachment, of sexual identity, of seduction. The film manages to give us hints as to how Lili’s family and her past shape her. With her partner, she behaves at times like a little girl fearing abandonment – when he carries her in her arms by the lake, when they fight. She seeks a proximity, a connection with him that is too intense, stifling, reminiscent of an infant or a child’s intense and total need for comfort – her loneliness, her grief unbearable.
This unbearable feeling also leads her to seek and avoid it, to find ways to keep her emotions at bay, it leads her to rebelliousness, decadence and to some extent, self-destruction. There is this appeal of decadence against the appeal of excellence and perseverance as well as depression and the appeal of death. Art stands out as an outlet and a discipline.
These are only some of the themes approached in this intricate, reflective piece on the process of grief. As with a painter’s brush, the film is made of very many strokes, very many touches that make one piece, complete, and yet only a glimpse, retaining mystery.
We look forward to seeing the other films brought by the Goethe Institute this year at the German Currents, running from September 24th through the 29th, held at the Aero Theatre (American Cinematheque) in Santa Monica, with an expo at the Goethe Institute as well. ( http://www.goethe.de/ins/us/los/kue/flm/gec/enindex.htm )