a suggestive suspense drama about the clash between nature and culture, man and woman

Michael Koch’s fascinating Drii Winter – about a young couple in the Swiss Alps – keeps the avalanches under the skin. Most anyway.

“What if this is all just a dream?” Anna wonders, clinging tightly to her fiancé Marco as she swerves through the Swiss mountains on his motorcycle. They are about to get married, but bring luggage. He is a taciturn, bonkers farmer who is relatively new to the region and prefers to work with animals rather than with his neighbors. She is a frail lady who has lived all her life between the snow-capped peaks and green valleys, and has a daughter from a previous relationship. It seems love and physical attraction pure nature, as pure as a mountain river. Until Marco suddenly complains of a headache, undergoes an MRI scan and … go see the rest for yourself.

It is clear from the intriguing opening shot that you should not expect a romantic idyll full of yodeling damsels and chattering cuckoo clocks. For at least a minute, director Michael Koch keeps his stoic camera pointed at a boulder shrouded in mist and heavenly chorale music, and which looks at least as massive and unshakable as beef head Marco. Not much is spoken, and even less explained, in this sultry suspense drama based mainly on cinematography and suggestion about the clash between nature and culture, man and woman.

It is clear from the intriguing opening shot that you should not expect a romantic idyll full of yodeling damsels and chattering cuckoo clocks.

With his mix of robust, earthy realism and spiritual symbolism, Koch clearly took a good look at the cinema of Bruno Dumont – he of La vie de Jesus and Flandres – looked. With the difference that Dumont’s Franco-Flemish countryside has been replaced here by steep mountains and deep valleys. And that Koch, who in turn works with locals who have never been in front of a camera before, does not shoot widescreen, but squeezes even the most impressive Alpine vistas into the oppressive Academy ratio format.

In addition, he now and then adds music to his soundtrack, which mainly consists of the rustling of the wind, the dripping of rain and the mooing of cows. There are pop songs that break through the sparse dialogue, and come in from a bar or a radio. And there is an Alpine choir that pops up several times in the rigid picture frame to comment on Marco and Anna’s fate with chorale singing.

Gradually starts Three Winter a little too much drag to get to the tenuous heights of say Carlos Reygadas. But certain hunches give something sublime to the everyday. As if a bare rock in an alpine meadow suddenly becomes the ancient symbol of intransigence and isolation. But that doesn’t mean that Koch, who won an award in Berlin and represents Switzerland at the Oscars this year, is starting to hover too far above his characters in his artistic (rige) industry.

However little they say, and although it remains a guess as to what really drives them under the skin, Marco and Anna remain people of flesh and blood. Or are they just breeding animals? ‘What’s love?’ you hear Haddaway singing on the soundtrack, a question that Koch passes on to the viewer in a sparse, but visually virile way.

Three Winter
Michael Koch with Simon Wisler, Michèle Brand, Elin Zgraggen

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