Films from Norway and Switzerland Winter Wonderland By Blanka Elekes Szentagotai

in 15th Tromso International Film Festival

by Blanka Elekes Szentagotai

In a flawless programming gesture, several films screened at this year’s Tromso International Film Festival reflected the somewhat eerie winter atmosphere of northern Norway. Two of which provided not only perfect landscape and atmosphere visuals but truly memorable cinematic experiences.

Polish-born Swiss director Greg Zglinski’s All Winter Without Fire (Tout un hiver sans feu) was one of the festival’s highlights, a hit with the audience as well as with the juries. The film’s plot takes the viewer to the beautiful yet tryingly long and cold winter in the Swiss Jura. Jean and Laure are experiencing a particularly painful winter having just lost their five year old daughter Marie in a hayloft fire. When the pain becomes unbearable and their farm is also slipping towards bankruptcy, Laure is sent to a clinic while Jean starts working in a nearby factory. It is there that he meets a widowed Kosovar refugee, Labinota, who helps him come to terms with his grief and maybe even work out the difficulties that have surfaced in his marriage.

Greg Zglinski’s feature directorial debut is both an ode to the country he clearly loves and a tribute to the gentle traditions of (Eastern) European filmmaking. The audience is led through the film by Aurélien Lecoing’s strong and moving lead performance as Jean. The little-known Swiss actor plays the grief-torn father with rarely seen fragility and delicacy. His eyes radiate the kind of pain no dialogue could ever express. Lecoing’s performance was one of, if not the strongest in the festival’s competition selection and the actor is likely to be multiply awarded on the festival circuit.

With no other acting performance to match Lecoing’s, the mountainous region of the Swiss Jura becomes a character in itself. The sad coldness and distant rigidity of the mountain winter underscores the intensity of the parental loss which is then further emphasized by the hauntingly dark images of the burnt down hayloft. Add to that the seemingly endless snow-covered roads captured beautifully by Witold Plociennik’s camera and All Winter Without Fire easily becomes a most captivating visual experience.

Another feature directorial debut deals with virtually the same subject and the two films share several further similarities. Norwegian production Kissed by Winter (Vinterkyss) is a story of a Swedish doctor Victoria who, after having lost her only child, moves to a small town in the south-east of Norway. When one morning a young man is found dead in the snow, Victoria senses a crime and throws herself into the investigation. In the process she ends up learning just as much about herself as about the case she’s trying to uncover.

In Kissed by Winter it is a female director, Sara Johnsen directing a lead actress through much of the same emotions and troubles All Winter Without Fire’s Jean is experiencing. And actress Annika Hallin perfectly executes the role of the mother who tries to run away rather than face and try to come to terms with the loss of her beloved son. Unlike in Lecoing’s case, Hallin’s best moments come when her pain is expressed through her actions as she is motherly caressing her young patients or as she’s cradling the telephone listening to her son’s voice on the answering machine. A strong supporting performance by Norwegian star Kristoffer Joner as Victoria’s love interest who might also have a hand in the young man’s death is also one of the film’s true assets. Joner plays Kai with ease and without any manners, you wouldn’t want anyone else driving your snow plough around.

Once again the winter landscape receives a major role in the plot of the film and one could only hope that audiences worldwide will have the chance to indulge in the natural beauties of Switzerland and Norway. And that these two young filmmakers will never lose their touch for delivering such sensible and beautifully-crafted stories.