L’Inverno : Italy 2002 : Nina Di Majo : 97 mins

Highbrow young novelist Leo (Fabrizio Gifuni), shares an apartment with his girlfriend, gallery-owner Marta (Valeria Bruni Tedeschi) in Turin, the coldest, most northerly Italian city. Leo and Marta’s relationship is going through a static patch – but it’s positively blooming compared with the marriage of their neighbours, fiftyish businessman Gustavo (Yorgo Voyagis) and his much younger wife Anna (Valeria Golino).

Winter is what might happen if one of Woody Allen’s more serious screenplays ever landed in the lap of Michael Mann. This is the brittle, behind-bedroom-doors territory so scabrously mined by Neil LaBute in Your Friends and Neighbours – writer-director di Majo follows her characters as they mope around art galleries, bookshops and painfully stylish apartments, keeping a certain distance to observe their emotional neuroses.

Nobody’s expecting much in the way of warmth from a film called ‘Winter’ – and sure enough, despite the lack of snow, there’s no shortage of internal coldness on view, especially from the almost terminally morose Leo. Labouring on a tale involving terminal illness, he soon becomes too much for the comparatively lively Marta, and when she eventually snaps, calling him a ‘deaf-mute jerk,’ it’s hard not to sympathise – although each of the characters are, in their way, infuriating, and there’s something slightly perfunctory about how di Majo’s script alternately brings them together in various combinations before and driving them apart.

There’s no faulting her technique – like Michael Mann, she’s clearly spent an inordinate amount of time working out how she wants the film to look and sound, enlivening the prevailing chilliness with some unexpected, weird ingenuities: the soundtrack is full of weird, reverb-heavy moments of unexplained sussuration, and the her muted, grey-blue compositions find a perfect counterpart in the stylish electronic score by Davide Mastropaoli and Leandro Sorrentini.

This is a harsh world of smooth, cold, unwelcoming surfaces, and the occasional, mildly surreal jaggedness is all the more jarring: there’s startling sequence in which Leo attends a publishing party that’s all dark shadows, chrome mirrors, sharp edges, such a hostile environment it’s no wonder he reacts by throwing up. Other flourishes are no less effective for their restraint: an unexplained line of green light that briefly drifts across the image, and a long crack that runs, unremarked, through a huge, expensive pane of glass.

16th March, 2002
(seen 11th February, Cinemaxx Berlin – Berlin Film Festival)

by Neil Young
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