Academy award-winning German filmmaker Caroline Link’s latest work, A YEAR AGO IN WINTER, is a compelling, evenly-paced psycho-gramme of a family struggling to come to terms with death.
In the opening scene Lilli, a 21-year-old theater student, observes her brother Alex dancing in the snow while their mother, Eliane, films him. 9 months later, Eliane visits Max Hollander, a painter, to commission a portrait of her two children, Alex and Lilli. As she talks about her son and daughter, she reluctantly discloses to Max that Alex has passed away.
Eliane never discusses why she wants this painting, but it is obvious that it is most important to her. Does she hope the painting will keep the memory of Alex alive? Or does she, subconsciously, want to address what each family member tries to ignore and hopes to forget? Whatever her reasons, through her initiative the painting turns into a catalyst, and everyone involved, including Max, is forced to reflect upon their losses.
Although warned, Max takes on the challenge and requests a meeting with Lilli. Reluctantly, Lilli pays Max a first visit – and confirms that grief and guilt weigh heavily on her entire family. Many words are spoken, but little is actually said and a lot is to be inferred. Each family member suffers alone and quietly.
As the relationship between Lilli and Max develops and grows, everyone around them also matures: Max starts to mend the broken bond with his own son, Lilli starts to work through her grief and guilt over Alex’s death to finally move on with her life, Eliane finally accepts that her son committed suicide and together with her husband, the couple finds a peaceful closure of their dysfunctional relationship.
Towards the end of the film, Eliane sits down at her computer and types: “0A year ago, our son Alexander committed suicide. We still don’t know why.” Likewise, the film does not offer an answer, but poses possibilities: Was there too much pressure from school or home? Were Alex’s expectations of himself too high, or maybe something else he just could not cope with? At some point, Max suggests to Lilli to stop looking for that one reason and consider that there may have been many.
Caroline Link adapted A YEAR AGO IN WINTER from Scott Campbell’s novel AFTERMATH and moved it from the US to Munich, Germany. Karoline Herfurth as Lilli (last seen in Stephen Daldry’s THE READER), Josef Bierbichler as Max Hollander, the painter, (most recently in Michael Haneke’s Cannes winner THE WHITE RIBBON) and Corinna Harfouch as Lilli’s mother Eliane Richter (Madga Goebbles in Oliver Hirschspiegel’s DOWNFALL) plus Hans Zischler (amongst others Steven Spielberg’s MUNICH), as Lilli’s father and Eliane’s husband, make up the main cast.
For their convincing performances, Karoline Herfurth received the Bavarian Film Award for best young actress and Josef Bierbichler won the German Film Award for Best Actor – prestigious awards for two persuasive protagonists, both lonesome, lost, and longing for love.
For more information on the film, please visit www.imwintereinjahr.film.de