The View From Here

Edinburgh Film Festival -- The Architect

Michael Bonner

For a film that opens with a woman walking through the snow, it’s perhaps apt that the subjects under scrutiny here are a collection of cold, rather wintry folks. The woman in question, Hannah (Sophie Rois), is a single mother living in a remote Alpine village, whose discover of the body of an elderly woman sets up the narrative of this excellent, slow-burning domestic drama.

I’m reminded, to some degree, of Il Y A Longtemps Que Je T'aime, a similarly excoriating movie about family matters in which shocking, key events are deployed with elegance and minimal fuss, entirely to its credit. The body is the mother of Georg Winter (Josef Bierbichler), the architect of the title who clearly seems more comfortable with the clean lines and soothing geometry of his job ("Dreams you can walk through," as he describes them) than he is dealing with his family. His wife, Eva (Hilde Van Mieghem), is on one hand sexually frustrated with her husband's remoteness, on the other disdainful of her husband’s upbringing in the Alpine boondocks. She is embarrassingly over-attentive towards their two late-teenage children: son, Jan (Mattias Schweighöfer), a loafer, and daughter Reh (Sandra Hüller), an over-achiever with hopes of becoming a professional violinist. There are undertows, of course. Jan and Reh’s relationship is – though I might be misreading this – possibly incestuous; Georg himself has a habit of kissing Reh on the mouth, and the pair of them go running in the snow naked. Georg is referred to as “absent” by Reh, a period that began, it seems, around the time Jan was born. Georg is a brooding father who seems to have no connection with either his family or his late mother (his speech at her wake is faltering and vague; there’s no love lost here, it seems).

As the Winters arrive in the Alps for the funeral, first time writer-director Ina Weisse explores the family’s complex and dysfunctional relationships at a leisurely, but no less compelling pace. Hannah herself is key to explaining why Georg has become a distant man to his family. The scenes between Hannah and Georg – childhood friends, and perhaps more – are brilliantly handled, and an artful example of what’s not said between them having a far more significant impact than any dialogue. Out of a formidably accomplished cast, Rois is a stand out; her facial expressions, as she goes from the film’s default setting of cold-slash-distant to flashes of fire and excitement, and ultimately confusion, when she’s around Georg are superbly judged. Bierbichler – a bear of man – internalizes his many issues. He’s shut down to his family, but you sense there’s a lot roiling away beneath the surface, and the gradual revelations that emerge are delivered (as with Il Y A Longtemps Que Je T'aime) like tiny, but profoundly impactful, emotional depth charges.

As the film develops, there are moments of quiet but extraordinary tension. Eva's drunken flirtations with Hannah's son threaten to turn The Architect into some kind of Sophoclean tragedy; realising Reh is missing, Jan frantically follows her footsteps in the snow into the wilderness and you wonder whether one, or both, of them might die from exposure. In fact, without flagging up spoilers, Georg's many secrets may end in at least one death.

It’s perhaps the inevitability of being a first-time filmmaker that Weisse’s use of foreshadowing and telegraphing is occasionally a bit shonky. The snow-bound setting (as beautifully shot as it is) and the Winters’ surname perhaps signposts more than is necessary the family’s internal problems. All the same, this is an excellent drama.

The trailer's not on Youtube, I'm afraid, but you can see a clip from the film here. Hope you enjoy.

Right, off to see The September Issue, a film about magazines. Good Lord. I’ll try and get my thoughts on that posted this evening before I find a party to go to…


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