“First there is the darkness of a limestone mine, lit only by helmet flashlights and the occasional shower of flinty sparks from a pickax connecting with rock,” begins Jessica Kiang in Variety. “And then there’s the comparative dazzle of the processing plant, bleached white by a settling of lime dust and snow. Somehow these conflicting images are rendered equivalently bleak and scuzzy in Hlynur Pálmason’s challenging, deeply weird and yet peculiarly compelling directorial debut, in which a tiny community of Danish workers, clustered around a factory in the middle of nowhere, feels so isolated and remote it could well be on the surface of the moon.”
Winter Brothers “is a brutish, elemental feature debut,” writes Joseph Owen at the Upcoming. “Emil (Elliott Crosset Hove) is the inscrutable younger brother to Johan (Simon Sears). Both work in a stunningly bleak and harsh terrain where men’s faces are spoiled with a strange mixture of snow, muck, sweat and rubble. Emil preoccupies and enriches himself by selling dodgy, ‘toxic’ concoctions that the others drink readily. For the workers, this venture only slightly offsets his peculiarity—it will ultimately confirm their suspicions and damn him in turn.”
“Pálmason, who wrote the screenplay, subtitled the movie ‘A Lack of Love Story,’ underlining Emil's loneliness and longing,” writes John Bleasdale at Cine-Vue. “And Crosset Hove's performance is a mixture of vulnerability, scorn and magic. He's like Stan Laurel accidentally wandering into a Tarkovsky/Lynch filmscape.”
“There are some cracking individual scenes when Emil is called to account by his boss (Lars Mikkelsen),” writes Screen’s Allan Hunter, “or when the tensions between Emil and his brother eventually boil over into a brutal, exhausting fight in which Johan is naked throughout and Emil comes close to losing his life. Emil’s acquisition of an automatic rifle and fascination with army training videos suggest that it will see service later in the story, an expectation that is unrealized, marking one way in which Pálmason tries to subvert convention.”
“By setting his story amidst picturesque, snowy, industrial scenery, powerfully captured by Maria Von Hausswolff’s camerawork, in an almost 35 mm-like, round-cornered frame, and by interweaving it with Lars Halvorsen’s imposing sound design, consisting of both industrial and natural noises, Pálmason creates an organic film that is impressively vivid,” writes Vassilis Economou for Cineuropa.
Update, 8/10: “For me,” Pálmason tells Vassilis Economou at Cineuropa, “family always provides enough material and everybody can relate, but I never felt as though I needed make a statement. I would consider that a failure as the only thing I can do right is to follow my interests. The core of my story was a hero who wants to be loved and that’s enough. It’s funny how films can drift sometimes and surprise you.”
Update, 8/15: “Pálmason hit the bull’s-eye with his second short, 7 Boats (2014), which like Winter Brothers married a distinctive, slightly bygone aesthetic to a claustrophobic, darkly humorous story detailing man’s casual, cruel inhumanity to his fellow man,” writes Neil Young in the Hollywood Reporter. “But the great leap from a ten-minute running time to full feature length proves, not for the first time, to be a tricky one. While impressive in parts, the picture oscillates between the profitably enigmatic and the frustratingly obtuse. As an elaborate, lovingly crafted calling card for Pálmason and several of his collaborators, however—even Daniel Imsland’s minimalist opening/closing titles are immaculately designed—it amply passes muster.”