Gentle, character-based “53 Winter Days” interweaves three naturalistic short pieces about troubled lives -one psychological, one emotional, one social — into an unexpectedly resonant, understated whole, and though its themes — loneliness, communication breakdown, the great importance of small events — are deja vu, the truth of its psychological aim makes for sporadically powerful and moving viewing. Fest-bound pic reps first-time Spanish helmer Judith Colell as a solid future prospect.
Three characters — schoolteacher Mila (vet Mercedes Sampietro), security guard Celso (Alex Brendemuhl) and wannabe classical musician Valeria (Aina Clotet) are at a bus stop when they see a man abandon a dog and drive off. They are then followed separately, with no “Short Cuts”-style attempts to interweave the stories.
Mila is a schoolteacher returning to her job after a year’s break following a physical attack by a student. Sampietro conveys well the psychological stress of Mila’s position as she slowly learns to stand up to people. However, with Sampietro as the only dramatic focus, things sometimes drag.
In the second yarn, cello student Valeria is happy to be accepted into a string quartet until her relationship with her teacher Hugo (Portuguese vet Joaquim de Almeida) falls apart: In a memorable, tragicomic scene, Hugo dispatches his wife to tell Valeria the bad news. Meanwhile, Valeria’s mother (Silvia Munt) languishes at home, unable to come to terms with being abandoned by her husband.
The most successful story, which looks like Ken Loach writ small, has Alex struggling to keep together his marriage to Angela (Maria Pau Pigem), who’s expecting twins, and his job. The kind of good-hearted guy who forgives an old man his theft of some perfume from the department store where he works, Alex ends up stealing a necklace for Angela and being fired for it. Unable to face Angela, he walks out and is soon living in the streets. Terrifically told, emotionally potent and superbly nuanced little tale contains sufficient material for a feature, and its compression gives it a memorable intensity.
Though the script has many points to make, it makes them through the characters, and is never preachy.
Pic is fluidly edited, with most scenes coming in at less than three minutes, though matters never feel rushed. Lensing is mostly restrained hand-held, appropriate for an item that aims at intimacy, but the script would have benefited from more humor; the pic’s grimness, particularly through its midsection, is unrelenting. Space is found for one lovely, lyrical interlude, the camera tracking slowly around locations the characters have made their own to a gentle piano accompaniment.