"Tracks in the Snow," a new film by Dutch director Orlow Seunke, has the modulated, lulling rhythms of an authentic personal memory. It's like a stone that's been turned over and over again in the hand until it's been worn smooth.
Set sometime in the '20s (the exact date is never specified), it's told in the form of a theater piece mounted by the central character, Simon (Gerard Thoolen), who recounts the details of the trip to a northern village taken with his brother, Hein (Bram van der Vlugt), in response to a summons from their dying father.
The memory-play, as Simon has conceived it, begins (and ends) inside the sinkhole of a theater where he performs as an actor/troubadour. But shortly thereafter, as the brothers begin their journey, the movie moves beyond the cabaret stage to a more realistic setting.
The central conflict is between the pinched, fastidious Hein, who has profited as a stock trader in charge of the family firm, and the black sheep Simon, whose flamboyant homosexuality alienated his father, creating a 20-year silence between them that lasts until his father's final illness. For Simon, the trek is an opportunity to suture the wounds of the past. Hein's mission is vastly different -- to protect the great lie he has constructed at Simon's expense in order to keep his father's legacy to himself.
Most of the film takes place on the snowy road between the father's village and the town of Pervola, where he had asked to be buried. And gradually, while on the horse-drawn, covered sleigh they've engaged for the journey, the details of Hein's long deception are revealed, upsetting the balance of power in the relationship between the brothers and, for Simon, who has lived as the outcast, overturning his whole life.
The story, as written by Seunke and his collaborators, Dirk Ayelt Kooiman, Maarten Koopman and Thoolen, has a real sense of the drama between brothers and fathers. And the film, which was shot in Amsterdam and Norway by Theo Bierkoms, has a magnificent look.
The movie stays in a minor key, though, and the Pirandellian layers that Seunke has built in don't add much to our understanding (and in some instances act as an impediment to our getting a grip on what's happening). Some of it, like the references to a distant war and the bands of soldiers with shaved heads who appear every now and again, is nearly impossible to decipher.
But there is a nicely shaped performance by Thoolen; in a role that begs to be overdramatized, he's restrained and manages to portray the pathos in Simon's character without sentimentalizing him. "Tracks in the Snow" isn't a major experience, but it has a haunting depth of feeling that lingers.
Tracks in the Snow, at the Biograph, is unrated and contains no offensive material.