Winter Brothers dares to be different

DREYER AWARD. Hlynur Pálmason's debut feature 'Winter Brothers' adds the distinguished Dreyer Award to its list of Danish and international merits. Producer Per Damgaard Hansen suggests how a daringly artistic film has succeeded in hitting a mark with an international audience.

WINTER BROTHERS. Elliott Crosset Hove features prominently in Hlynur Pálmason's debut, honoured with the Dreyer Award named after one of Danish cinema's pre-eminent figures. Photo: Masterplan Pictures

"Once in a while you see a Danish film where, from the very first images, you sense that there is something exceptional going on," said Eva Novrup Redvall on behalf of the jury behind the annual Dreyer Award, presented this year to director Hlynur Pálmason for his debut feature 'Winter Brothers.' Read extract from the motivational speech below.

The Dreyer Award, named after Danish cinema's most distinguished classic figure, Carl Theodor Dreyer, celebrates outstanding artistic achievement among, primarily, young filmmakers.

"It's raw and intense, physical and fascinating. And the film continues to use images and sounds to focus on the sensuousness and the experience of being in an icy worker's drama"

- Eva Novrup Redvall

The award is the latest accolade granted to Pálmason's film by critics and prize committees. Recently at the Danish Robert Awards, the film won a total of nine trophies, including for Best Danish Film, Best Director and Best Actor. At CPH PIX 2017, Pálmason won the main award, the New Talent Grand Pix.

Internationally, the film has screened at festivals worldwide. It premiered at the Locarno Festival in August, where Elliott Crosset Hove won for Best Actor, and has since taken home awards from the festivals in Thessaloniki, Sevilla, Angers and Annonay, among others. 

In France, the film received several four-star reviews after its theatrical release on 21 February, and other territories will presumably be following, as the drama is sold for distribution in a wide range of countries – including India, England, Germany, Spain, Italy, the United States, Canada and a string of Latin American countries such as Mexico, Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Colombia and more. 

Per Damgaard Hansen, the film's producer, believes that one of the reasons for the film's positive reception abroad is that the film makes good use of the universality of cinematic language.

"We often want to be rational and understand everything, but what we've been experiencing as we've travelled with the film is that people relate to the sensual and intuitive – that this way, they get a deeper understanding of what it means to be a human being and to have feelings than they would if it were told through dialogue. 

"That's what people have responded to at home and abroad, namely the cinematic language. Then it doesn't really matter if the film is Danish, English or Nigerian," says Per Damgaard Hansen, co-founder of production company Masterplan Pictures, releasing its first feature film with 'Winter Brothers.'

Hlynur Pálmason received the Dreyer Award on 21 February at the Cinematheque in Copenhagen. Photo: Thomas Christensen

In need of a film like Winter Brothers

The following is an extract from Eva Novrup Redvall's motivational speech at the Dreyer ceremony held at the Danish Film Institute on 21 February: 

"Once in a while you see a Danish film where, from the very first images, you sense that there is something exceptional going on. Or rather, from the very first sound, for in Hlynur Pálmason's 'Winter Brothers,' both sound and images work in a way that sharpen and challenge our senses from the very beginning.

"The first sequences of the wintry-cold drama take us downwards to the dark and unique noises of the limestone quarry. First there is only the sound. The rhythmic movements and the machines in the dark. Then we gradually catch a glimpse of the surroundings in the flickering light from the torches. Slowly, the sound level rises until we are imbued with the deafening noise of the work in the midst of men trying to communicate in spite of the infernal sound. The workday begins in this uncanny, timeless world. 

"It's raw and intense, physical and fascinating. And the film continues to use images and sounds to focus on the sensuousness and the experience of being in an icy worker's drama about the everyday life and struggle of two brothers – in the dark as well as in the gray lime dust in the world above, in the white snow and in the run-down environment. 

"Danish cinema has been needing a film like 'Winter Brothers.' There is much good to be said about the very different feature films coming out right now, but sometimes there are too many explanations and predictable stories. Hlynur Pálmason and the talented team in front of and behind the camera of 'Winter Brothers' insist that it is okay not to understand everything and that film above all is a sensuous, audiovisual medium."

Dreyer Award

Since 1992, the Dreyer Award has been assigned to "young filmmakers or film professionals who have distinguished themselves within Danish cinema." The award includes a cash prize and is presented annually by the Carl Theodor Dreyer Foundation, if possible on Dreyer's birthday, 3 February.

Recipients Previous Years 

Susanne Bier, Birger Larsen, Janus Billeskov-Jansen, Niels Vørsel, Lars von Trier, Bo hr. Hansen, Jonas Elmer, Thomas Vinterberg & Chr. Braad Thomsen, Lotte Svendsen, Nicolas Winding Refn, Lone Scherfig, Per Fly, Ole Chr. Madsen, Åke Sandgreen, Annette K. Olesen, Jesper W. Nielsen, Christoffer Boe, Max Kestner, Dagur Kári, Niels Arden Oplev, Morten Hartz Kaplers, Henrik Ruben Genz, Nils Malmros, Tobias Lindholm, Michael Noer, Mads Brügger, Nikolaj Arcel, Manuel Alberto Claro, Jan Troell, Anders Østergaard, Martin Zandvliet, Puk Grasten, Christian Tafdrup.