GPJFF38: WINTERJAGD (WINTER HUNT)
Winterjagd is a taught psychological thriller about memory, responsibility, and justice, and how time turns victims into perpetrators, and perpetrators into victims. Or so it seems at first blush, when Lena (Carolyn Genzkow) fakes a car accident to gain access to the home of former Nazi SS officer Anselm Rossberg (Michael Degen) and his daughter, Maria (Elizabeth Degen). Lena is on a mission of revenge, when she learns of a story involving her grandmother Rahel, the Auschwitz concentration camp, and misdeeds performed against Rahel by Anselm. What results is a tense one-location showdown between generations of Germans reckoning with the unspeakable crimes of their country’s past.
This film opens in much the same way as The Shining; long panoramic shots that follow a lone car as it drives a curvy road into an ever increasing area of desolation. The music is ominous as well, signaling to viewers that Lena is not headed towards safety, and that something bad will indelibly happen when she gets to her final destination. Why she is taking this journey isn’t immediately clear, until after driving her car in a ditch and cutting her own face, she pleads with Maria to let her in so she can call for help. Maria reluctantly agrees, even though her house has been swarming with people over the last few weeks after her father’s acquittal of war crimes. We see Maria as both a woman determined to defend her now 90-year-old father against accusations she feels are untrue, but at the same time, resentful of the position her father’s past puts her in. Her father, suffering the fortunes of being alive at 90, may be accused of the crimes of others now long dead, but she knows what he is capable of, and it clearly scares her.
Lena is a young woman, full of passion, and not much in the way of a plan. She goes into the house with the upper hand, but tides soon turn, and instead of weapons being used to coerce confessions, Anselm instead suggests they sit and talk “like civilized people.” If we’re on board with Lena’s vengeance up until this point, Anselm’s suggestion gives the audience pause. Suddenly he doesn’t seem to be the monster Lena believes him to be. Instead he sits down with her, a woman about to blow his head off, and offers to talk about what he knows from his time at the camp. He even takes the time to explain a painting that Lena clumsily knocked to the ground in a show of machismo when she first attacked. The painting is “Winterjagd”, and depicts a lone figure with no hunting gear or proper clothing despite the name of the piece, hunched and wandering through the snowy wilderness. Is he a hunter? Or the hunted? The symbolism of this painting can’t be overstated, as all three main players in this drama will switch roles multiple times throughout its run.
As the characters talk, revelations come to light and a narrative soon emerges that changes the air in the room from deadly to deadlier. Each character progresses through their final metamorphosis before the end comes, with one lone wolf wandering aimlessly into the dark wilderness, leaving everything behind.
The performances in Winterjagd are strong all around, and the film hinges on Michael Degen, Elizabeth Degen, and Carolyn Genzkow to sway between hunter and hunted throughout the course of the film. Through that lens, this film is able to explore how memory, time, and the trauma around specific events affect different generations of people. There are even undertones of #MeToo, as this film discusses the role of justice seekers decades after crimes are committed, as well as utterances of it being “a different time” and something this one man, at 90-years-old, shouldn’t bare the burden of alone. There were others after all.
Winterjagd is a worthwhile watch for its tight storytelling and compelling symbolism that ties three desperate characters together for a night that will change their lives forever.
This film is playing at the Ambler Theater this Sunday, November 4th, as part of the Philadelphia Jewish Film Festival. Purchase tickets HERE.