Published Sep 04, 2008The magic of A Year Ago in Winter is its ability to dabble in stereotype without becoming overwhelmed, and its adroitness in exploring the external impact that suicide has on the living without extending naïve answers or solutions. Categorization is thankfully eluded with skill regardless of each characters desire to simplify complex, unanswerable questions with adage.
The film is about the human desire to simplify perplexing and layered human emotions while coping with feelings of loss, guilt and isolation. It is consistently powerful, challenging and unafraid to wear its heart on its sleeve.
Following the suicide of her quiet and affable 19-year-old son, Eliane Richter (Corinna Harfouch) hires an artist (Josef Bierbichler) to paint a portrait of her deceased son and daughter Lilli (Karoline Herfurth), a singer, dancer and musician. While initially reluctant to partake in the morbid portrait, citing vulgarity in her mothers desire to turn her dead brother into decorum, Lilli eventually finds a connection with the reclusive artist, who appears to be the only person interested in seeing the true person beneath her tough exterior.
Lillis simultaneous strength and weakness in her overt flirtations and unapologetic frankness are both upsetting and occasionally frustrating, given her natural inability to cope when presented with a challenge. Her character is riddled with so much personal loathing and guilt for having seemingly dismissed and distanced herself from her brother, which is shown beautifully in the portrait that is eventually painted, that her desire to find comfort in something as simple (and inaccurate) as "my brother killed himself because he was gay is entirely understandable.
Similar mirroring and unresolved personal repulsion is evident in the characters around Lilli, as they attempt to find a way to understand and accept who they are despite an inability to understand the nature of human pain and desire.
Caroline Link has constructed a heartbreaking and sincerely thoughtful film without any unnecessary pretence or contrived resolutions. This one deserves to be seen. (Seville)