“A Winter to Remember” is a simple, sweet lesbian love story

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Argentinian film A Winter to Remember is an innocent tale of self-discovery and first love, and it may just make you want to fall in love all over again.  Lucia is a 21-year-old young woman who suffers from anxiety and panic attacks that ostensibly stem from problems during her adolescence. While staying with her family in her hometown of Salta, Lucia’s path collides with the enigmatic Olivia. Over the winter break, Olivia opens Lucia’s eyes to new possibilities, a new point of view, and gives her the strength to confront anxieties from her past in order to move forward.

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“The most delicate flowers blossom in cold weather,” a tagline from the film, aptly describes how this short, but pleasing, Spanish-language movie unfolds. Coming in at a little over an hour (64 minutes), Argentinian writer and director, Cecilia Valenzuela Gioia’s first full-length film is promising. It is artistically shot, and while it is filled with quiet introspective moments, it is often hard to look away. The payoff rests in the beautiful love story that develops during the second half.

This piece is more than a love story. It is about self-discovery and self-acceptance. It opens on a seemingly lost Lucia (portrayed by writer and director Cecilia Valenzuela Gioia) running with no end in sight and quickly shifts to a more despondent reality where she is taking part in a family meal, listening to her parents fussing over the best ways to help her. Immediately, two things are apparent: her parents are vested in their daughter’s well-being, and Lucia is very unhappy.

As she is shuffled to doctor’s appointments and asked about taking her prescribed medication, exactly what she is suffering from is unclear, but the impact that it is having on her life is unmistakable. The first half of this movie seems chock full of subtle and contemplative moments that toe the line of tedium, but in so many ways they become representative of the monotony that is Lucia’s life, and of the numbing effect that her anxiety and medications have had on her. Enter Olivia (Oli), beautifully played by Mercedes Burgos, who is mysterious and imbued with a zest for life. Lucia finds herself inextricably drawn to Oli, and she is forced to confront her sexuality in order to allow this first love to bloom.

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“A Winter to Remember” is both simple and sweet. This works to the film’s benefit, but at times it is detrimental. Unfortunately, the lack of complexity in the narrative leaves the viewer, at times, wanting more. Early in the movie, Lucia’s mother suggests that she catch up with a former guy friend, reminding her that she once had a crush on him.

Her mother’s innocuous advice seems like it could set the stage for a potential conflict. However, for every beautiful and heartwarming moment in this film, the elements of hardship employed to balance the narrative seem underplayed. Even in the most idealistic situations, self-discovery and acceptance can be a tumultuous process. Lucia is presented as a character plagued by anxiety, but as the story progresses, it merely feels like a small conversation piece against a much larger backdrop.

Could it be that the ultimate antagonist is Lucia’s hidden secret that infiltrates her everyday existence? Certainly, and yet the stakes feel almost nonexistent. Perhaps it is due, in part, to the emphasis placed on the budding relationship between the two characters and a lack of attention given to the world around them. Initially, Lucia’s life is full of family and friends who, early on, give unwanted advice and hint at questions that she is seemingly unready to answer. Yet, these additional relationships feel somewhat underutilized. Throughout the movie there lacks a sense of urgency or tension to elevate the intimacy of its most tender moments.

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This film makes no grand statements, but it doesn’t have to. There is a certain beauty in its simplicity. The characters of Lucia and Olivia are richly crafted in their own right, and Cecilia Valenzuela Gioia and Mercedes Burgos play them with a vulnerability that comes across the screen as realistically flawed and endearing. In its brief run time, it manages to provide a snapshot of Lucia’s life over one transformative winter break.

It functions like a favorite chapter pulled from much larger, familiar story—one that you revisit when you are nostalgic for the feelings of a first love. In that regard, not only does it work incredibly well, but it makes Lucia and Oli’s story relatable and worthy of visiting again and again. Lucia’s self-discovery is endearing, and watching her moments of self-realization is well worth it. The burgeoning romance between the pair is fully rewarding and deftly handled with a sense of delicacy that makes it hard not to smile as their story unfolds. While the exposition in the first half of the movie may seem lengthy, the piece as a whole is ultimately rewarding.

A Winter To Remember

While there were times that I found myself wanting more from the narrative, “A Winter to Remember” proves that sometimes a sweet yet simple story can be satisfying. The film is currently being screened at the Inside Out Film Festival in Toronto.

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