Drii Winter (A Piece of Sky, 2022)

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Deep in the lower Alps, the love of a shy but articulate innkeeper’s daughter for a near-mute farm labourer, a “gentle giant” type, is an enjoyable spectacle in the first act of Drii Winter. It’s probably the highlight of the movie, mainly due to the lay actors in the lead roles, Michèle Brand and Simon Wisler, conveying simple vulnerability, although the depiction of intimate moments of courtship is directed freshly and originally as a collection of audiovisual postcards.

All families have drama. What makes the story of the illness that blights Anna and Marco’s marriage different to any other, more worth watching? You might say it’s more depressing than most – this is a heavy film, with very long scenes of folk whose baseline of happiness doesn’t appear very high – but the more obvious answer would be the community that contributes to that weight, the small farms and hamlets of Uri and Schwyz, their impenetrably minimalistic dialogues and the isolation that can leave entropy and repressed emotion unchecked.

But the director Michael Koch and his cinematographic team prefers to forefront the Alpine scenery, punctuated with scenes of hard agricultural labour. Dramatic and unusual camera positions are constantly unveiled, compositions contrived but beautiful, long shots on a mobile crane, in the back of a car or following characters up a ski lift. Occasional interludes in the form of short acapellas from a fourth wall-shattering Luzern choir pull us even more explicitly out of the realism. The Alpine farming makes an interesting spectacle in such dramatically composed stills, but most scenes positively scream “ART!”, a dominant sound in a film which so obviously wants to pull us into its silences, and which so desperately wants to align our empathies to characters who would never frame the world in such an mannered, stylized way.

So Drii Winter is a kind of realist movie, following talented lay actors through their family drama and their very hard work on the land. But visually it’s a different story, one of the fragility of humans and their emotion beneath the eternal monoliths of nature. The mode of the nature scenes is one of the dominance of the mountains, fields and animals, their ubiquity but also their grandeur compared to the pitifully mortal humans. One one side, hard realism and nature over culture; on the other, the camera as high art, every second shot belonging in an Accidental Renaissance forum. In my eyes these two elements do not make for good bedfellows.

As a story of Alpine work and love portrayed unusually, Drii Winter is doubtlessly beautiful and very much worth a watch. It feels convincing in its depiction of a community in which verbalization of sadness has little currency, and only nature’s vastness offers a means to manifest or transmit religious belief in cases of crisis. But as a family drama, the form of Drii Winter was too far removed from its content to move me, and over two hours of drama is a really long time to stay unmoved, no matter how inch-perfect and fresh-feeling the cinematography.

Swissness Difficulty Level: Säntis (medium).
Language: Swiss German.
Availability: Currently (Sep ’22) in cinemas only, no doubt to be streamed in the usual Swiss channels shortly. I can’t see it doing well overseas, but the Swiss film commission apparently disagrees and have nominated it for the Foreign film Oscar. If it gets through to the finals, you’ll see it out there, I’m sure.

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