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Review: Winter Solstice (2004)

Directed by: Josh Sternfeld | 90 minutes | drama | Actors: Anthony LaPaglia, Aaron Stanford, Mark Webber, Allison Janney, Michelle Monaghan, Brendan Sexton III, Ron Livingston, Ebon Moss-Bachrach, Frank Wood, Kel O’Neill, Thomas Sadoski, Kathleen Bridget Kelly, Welker White, Jason Fuchs,

Sippe widower meets nice neighbor who naturally shows interest in him; eldest son wants to go to Florida to escape the oppressive home climate, and the youngest son seems like a moronic retard. There is no further development in these storylines in “Winter Solstice”.

In his “indie” film debut, director only shows us the superficial manifestations of how a deals with grief. You could say that Winter Solstice is all about that, namely that in real life there is no plot, that everyone just muddles along and that emotions are rarely vented in theatrical explosions. “Winter Solstice” would thus show us a few days out of the ordinary life of a number of ordinary people, as it is, without frills, without dramatic tension and emotional denouement and without quirky dialogues.

But with the obligatory lack of mutual communication that we see more often in these types of films, and here it is made very colorful. Most of the dialogues get stuck in the “why?” and “I don’t know” combination. A striking example: teacher asks pupil to sit a little more in the front of the class, instead of at the very back when the class is largely empty. The student asks “why?” and the teacher replies “I don’t know”. According to Josh Sternfeld, even teachers can’t put their simplest motives into words, so that promises something for the rest of the characters who populate the film, mainly warehouse workers, neighbors and loiterers.

In terms of theme, the film shows similarities with another obscure ‘indie’ drama ‘Winter Passing’ from a year later, but without the eccentric characters (Will Ferrell) and absurd situations (grieving father moves bedroom to garden and waves in the house) In ‘ Winter Solstice ‘the father, a gardener by trade, continues to water the plants quietly, accompanied by a sleep-inducing plucking folk guitar that acts as a soundtrack.
The question arises why would we want to look at this? What makes this movie worthwhile? Because the Winter is dealing with a trauma and we want to see how they do it? Because it gives a glimpse into life in the “suburbs”? Or because the director secretly tries to give a Hollywood touch to the film?

Who knows may say. At the end, the dorky brother turns out not to be such a moron, because in an insignificant key scene he knows the answer to the question why the Mongols did not conquer Europe, and that says something … The father whose idiom consists largely of the word “hey” in one scene just like that the entire trauma that we as a viewer suspected and despite not being very charismatic, let alone having something to say, he simply conquers the heart of the willingly sympathetic neighbor who – and we really don’t know why – incredible is in her element with this stiff rake.

And finally the son who would go away? Well it goes away. Father helps with the loading of the car and that ends the story. In the meantime we have seen some nicely shot images of an American middle-class suburb and some interactions between the local gruff youth that are just as bored as the viewer is now.

It is as if the director wants to say: this is how it goes with us in “suburbia”. And we think, yes it will. The film does not scramble on proverbially, but stands still for ninety minutes and then succeeds again in an abrupt stop. Only for the compulsive enthusiast.

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