A Woman In Winter

Film 4 Review

 

A Woman in Winter Richard Jobson directs this ambitious tale of two star-crossed lovers, frozen in time - as well as in Edinburgh

Snowflakes fall in slow motion as a woman intones in a subtitled French voiceover about winter, mysteries, loss and the irreversible consequences of fate. 
 

It feels like the beginning of some continental, intellectual art flick, and indeed what follows will evoke the likes of Alain Resnais' Last Year In Marienbad (1961) and Andrei Tarkovsky's Solaris (1972).

 In fact A Woman In Winter is written and directed by Richard Jobson, former frontman of 1970s Scottish new wavers The Skids, and it takes place entirely within the confines of Edinburgh - apart, that is, from the bits set in deep space, in 'dead zones', or in the protagonist's head.

Jobson's third feature, after 16 Years Of Alcohol and The Purifiers, is made in a nation whose films are most associated with grim social realism but the director aims for the stars, with a film that is as ambitious as it is abstract and ethereal.

Michael (Sives) is an obsessive, unstable astrophysicist who is convinced that it is possible to travel backwards and forwards in time through the parallel worlds of a "schizophrenic" universe.

To the delight of his observatory boss David (Flemyng) and to the dismay of his sceptical colleague Marianne (Lynch), Michael discovers what he hopes will provide proof of his 'reverse-time theory': a star that looks set to become a black hole on the coming New Year's Eve.

On the very same day as this discovery, Michael meets a mysterious French photographer called Caroline (Gayet), and at once they fall deeply in love.

The woman, however, has a strange habit of vanishing, and when Michael turns for information to Dr Hunt (Cox), the psychiatrist whose card Michael had found inside Caroline's handbag, the doctor insists the Caroline that he treats is a different woman entirely.

As Michael's world begins to fall apart, only time will tell what role he has to play in the coming cosmic ballet.

Part science fiction, part ghost story, and part study of mental breakdown, A Woman In Winter is a romantic head-spinner that suggests many solutions to its central enigma without ever being so coarse as to champion any one over the rest.

Caroline (or indeed Michael) might be a phantom, or might be from one of the mirror worlds of Michael's quantum cosmology, or might even be a figment of the imagination - viewers who wish to know for certain which of these scenarios is true may well feel like laymen faced with a particularly complicated scientific formula.

Yet it is precisely this indeterminacy that gives A Woman In Winter the sort of density that will reward attention, not to mention multiple viewings.

Jobson, like Michael himself, has a physicist's "fetish for elegance", and with great invention and ingenuity has stretched his micro-budget to its absolute limits, creating a stunning assemblage of coded colour, rapid stills montage, picture-perfect composition, CG starscapes and artfully varied frame rates - while Vincent Watts' synth-and-piano lilts hit just the right note of reflective sombreness.

This is without question a beautiful piece of cinema, and what is more its rather disorienting aesthetics and its eerily depopulated locations, far from being just style for style's sake, are always in the service of the protagonist's warped perspective.

Like Puritan but without the noir, like Pi but without the Kabbalah, like Groundhog Day only at Hogmanay, A Woman In Winter is a thought-provoking chronology-twister with a human heart.

Arguably it takes a little too long in setting itself up, and some of the lines about the power of love are just the wrong side of mawkish, but it is cleverly plotted, easy on the eye, hauntingly otherworldy - and it will have viewers going round in circles as much as its characters.

Verdict
A Woman In Winter is British cinema at its most adventurous: an unquantifiable mystery with an intellectual seriousness to match its visual exuberance. About time, too.

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