Oak Cliff Film Festival Review: WINTER BROTHERS (2018)

WINTER BROTHERS, also known as Vinterbrødre, is about a brother’s odyssey set in a worker environment during a cold winter. The film follows two brothers, their routines, habits, and rituals that results in a violent feud erupting between them and another family. WINTER BROTHERS was directed by Hlynur Palmason and stars Elliot Crosset Hove and Simon Sears.

The film is set in Iceland mostly around a chalk mine and a quaint house in a small town during the winter. The drab and colorless scenes really add to the stark, harsh life that these miners endure. Right off the bat I was impressed with the cinematography as it was superb with amazing establishing shots. The landscape of Iceland plays a large part in the films that come out of the region; as if Iceland itself is a character of each film. Hlynur also used stark coverage when shooting the film which I found to be quite effective. A long dialogue scene between the brothers was captured on a Steadicam as they walked through the forest of snow-laded trees as well as a moment that started on one window of a house and dollied right and left as a character moved about. It was a poetic visual style. The sound design was also wonderful with the movie opening on a dark scene with a drone of loud machinery and a singular light that moves the guides our way. For several minutes, and I mean several, we are in the dark until it finally is revealed that we are in a mine and that we have been following a miner.

I did enjoy this film; however, the pacing was rather slow. I felt at times there were scenes that dragged on, taking too long to really understand the story and why we should be rooting for these characters. As I mentioned we follow two brothers – Emil and Johan – who live together and work together in the mine. We come to find out that Emil is a bit of an entrepreneur and makes his own moonshine, from ingredients he steals from the mine, and then sells to his co-workers. It all goes well until one of the miners gets sick from the moonshine and dies. This is the alleged feud between the two families; however, the story seems to be more about the brother and the feud that they have, especially when Emil discovers that Johan has slept with the woman he is in love with. They have a fight – post coital – both brothers sans clothes, which comes off a bit strange and a bit homoerotic, but I do believe that it’s intended to make the scene more raw and real.

The biggest thing is Emil spends the majority of the film learning how to shoot a rifle, which we neither understand for which purpose because we never really see him shoot it. I was kind of led to believe he would use it to exact revenge of some sort, but the film just sort of stopped the same way it started. Perhaps that is a metaphor for life in that sometimes you do not get a resolve and are just left in the dark.

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