A YEAR AGO IN WINTER (IM WINTER EIN JAHR) (director/writer: Caroline Link; screenwriter: based on the novel “Aftermath” by Scott Campbell; cinematographer: Bella Halben; editor: Patricia Rommel; music: Niki Reiser; cast: Karoline Herfurth (Lilli Richter), Josef Bierbichler (Max Hollander), Corinna Harfouch (Eliane Richter), Hanns Zischler (Thomas Richter), Cyril Sjostrom (Alexander Richter), Misel Maticevic (Aldo), Franz Dinda (Johannes), Jacob Matschenz (Tobi Hollander), Daniel Berini (Tom); Runtime: 128; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Uschi Reich/Martin Moszkowicz; IFC Films; 2008-Germany/USA-in German with English subtitles)

"An art-house film about the power of perception in viewing a portrait painting."

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

German filmmaker Caroline Link ("Nowhere in Africa"/"Beyond Silence"/"Annaluise & Anton") adapts the American writer Scott Campbell' novel “Aftermath”to the screen. The result is an art-house film about the power of perception in viewing a portrait painting, that helps a family in the healing process of getting through a tragedy.

The Richter family live stylishly in the country outside of Munich. They are wealthy, sophisticated and cultured. Professor Thomas Richter (Hanns Zischler) is a famous research genetic scientist, his uptight wife Eliane (Corinna Harfouch) is a successful interior decorator, their volatile rebellious 21-year-old daughter Lilli (Karoline Herfurth) is studying dance/music/literature at a Munich college and the youngest child, the golden boy, Alexander (Cyril Sjostrom), died at 19, supposedly in a hunting accident last year. We soon learn he committed suicide, but will never learn why. The grieving mother commissions her loner artist neighbor, Max Hollander (Josef Bierbichler), separated from his wife and college-age son (Jacob Matschenz), to paint a portrait of her children together at their piano so she can have pleasant memories of them together.

Lilli is reluctant to do the portrait, feeling mom wants to turn it into a piece of interior decorating to massage her grief. She is slowly won over to the project by the good vibes coming from the recluse artist, who wants to understand his subjects before painting them. It leads to exposing family weaknesses, such as Lilli's guilt-feelings about being dismissive to her brother's need to have her tune into him and mom's belief her driven hubby pushed the kid too hard to be a star and though he always succeeded mom felt that maybe the pressure got to him. There was also a false lead that Alex might be gay, but any romance with his elite German national ski school roommate (Franz Dinda) was shot down when Lilli visited him.

The competently made and well-acted film tries to confirm that life and art are not separate entities and that art offers poignant life lessons when properly observed. The thoughtful film is a fair psychological study of grieving, but points out nothing new and is hardly insightful. For an overlong two hours plus it shows us what we already should have known, that we don't need all the answers about life if we are introspective and sensitive to others. The troubled Bavarian family by the end take a look at the finished portrait and their failing marriage is honestly faced for the first-time and the troubled heroine Lilli goes from thinking of herself as the rejected child and as a 'theater slut' to warming up to others in a more honest way. Meanwhile the artist comes out of his isolation funk and musings over his tormented sexual ambivalence and makes an effort to connect with his estranged son by giving him a deeply thought-out portrait he made of the kid. But the $64 question of how to fend off all the pain and hurt from losing a loved one is not answered, which reflects well on the filmmaker not to flatly answer something that had no correct answer.

REVIEWED ON 5/18/2013       GRADE: B

Dennis Schwartz: "Ozus' World Movie Reviews"