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Review: Offbeat European drama ‘Winter Brothers’ charts a singular path

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Elliott Crosset Hove plays the oddball Emil in the movie “Winter Brothers.”
(KimStim)

Icelandic writer-director Hlynur Palmason’s “Winter Brothers” is the impressionistic, at times surreal and absurdist tale of Emil (Elliott Crosset Hove), a skinny oddball who works in a remote limestone quarry with more his mainstream sibling Johan (Simon Sears).

This edgy, super-offbeat concoction, often mesmerizing in its own opaquely brazen way, curiously snowballs through a grim winter in which the brothers face conflicts and tensions (including a doozy of a brawl — in the nude, no less) largely incited by the unraveling Emil.

The narrative, such as it is, finds its footing when the homemade booze that Emil sells at the quarry fatally sickens a co-worker and Emil becomes a pariah. Previous episodes and images now don’t seem quite so random as Palmason masterfully, if still peculiarly, conjoins his various threads.

The cast, including Victoria Carmen Sonne, as the object of both Emil and Johan’s affections, and Lars Mikkelsen, as the quarry boss, is uniformly strong and singular.

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Cinematographer Maria von Hausswolff deftly captures the icy hues of the dusty chalk mine and its bleak environs (the movie was shot on the island of Zealand in eastern Denmark) in an evocative palette of whites, grays and blues. Her bravura tracking shot of the brothers’ hike through a snowy forest is a standout.

The pairing of Toke Brorson Odin’s electronic score with Lars Halvorsen’s clangy sound design is, like much else here, impressively audacious — and not for everyone.

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‘Winter Brothers’

In Danish and English with English subtitles

Not rated

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Running time: 1 hour, 34 minutes.

Playing: Starts July 20, Laemmle Monica Film Center, Santa Monica

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