From the title down, A Year Ago in Winter has the vibe of one of those generic prize-winning novels about New England families falling apart in the dead of winter—tastefully "understated," deflecting criticism with sheer modesty. The emotional trains run strictly on time in Caroline Link's adaptation of a novel called (of course) Aftermath, which swaps Boston for Germany without missing a beat. A year after younger son Alex (Cyril Sjöström) kills himself, mother Eliane (Corinna Harfouch) approaches painter Max Hollander (Josef Bierbichler) for a posthumous portrait of Alex alongside his fiercely resistant sister, Lilli (Karoline Herfurth). "My brother is dead, and my mother wants to turn him into interior décor," Lilli fumes, and she's not wrong. Over two lazy hours, we get the usual: Eliane and husband's collapsing marriage, Lilli's sublimation of grief into her identity as a self-described "theater slut," Lilli and Max mutually bringing each other out of emotional deep-freeze. Understated doesn't necessarily equal insightful, and Winter isn't even that understated, coming complete with climactic catharsis scored to Peter Gabriel. Link manages to dodge the big question Lilli raises: When does avoidance become as valid a coping mechanism as unfettered mourning? Instead, we learn that decorum, nice bottles of wine, and home-cooked dinners can't hide the cracks beneath. Oh, well.
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