Dir: Sara Johnsen. Nor. 2005. 84mins.

A bereaved mother tries to come to terms with heranguish by seeking refuge in a snowbound northern village. There, she discoversunsuspected affinities with the local population, as well as finding romanceand becoming embroiled in a troubling mystery.

As the above synopsissuggests, this year's official Norwegian submission for the best foreignlanguage Oscar hardly breaks any dramatic templates (last year's Swedish film As It Is In Heaven,which made it to the final five, told a similar snowbound tale of trauma andreconciliation).

Conventional as it is, Sara Johnsen's debut feature nevertheless sustains a seriousnessof tone and an emotional plausibility that rescue it from any incipientsentimentality. Its most distinctive card is its affecting lead performance by Annika Hallin.

A thoughtful, rather thanchallenging execution, suggests the film is most likely to thrive in festivalswith a more middle-brow approach, but international sales are likely to belimited.

The film begins withStockholm doctor Victoria (Hallin), rousing herreluctant son Sune to take part in a hockey game; asa result, the boy collapses. Two months later, Victoria has moved to a remotesnow-covered village, where she's the local GP. Sunehas died, and Victoria's marriage to Filip (Ragnerstam) has broken up, leaving her to blame herself fornot seeing the signs of her son's leukaemia.

In her new outpost, Victoriatends to a representative scattering of the community, including Gerd (Trine Wiggen), depressedwife of policeman Stein (Fridtjov Saheim),and Kai (Joner), a recently divorced father andsnowplough driver.

Drama flares up with thediscovery of a body buried in snow: it is identified as Darjosh(Jade Francis Haj), the teenage son of asylum seekersliving in a local immigration centre. Kai comes under suspicion of havingcaused the boy's death; even so, Victoria embarks on a romance with him, whilemaking her own investigations into Darjosh's story.

The slowly burgeoning affairbetween Victoria and Kai, and her incautious approach to this possiblyequivocal character, initially suggest that KissedBy Winter might turn out to be a kind of Nordic Chabrol feature, in the manner of say Le Boucher.

In fact, the film'sinvestigative element, which gradually illuminates local attitudes as well asthe relationship between the boy and his parents, makes less for a thrillerthan for a low-key psychological drama, with a plea for tolerance andunderstanding as its payoff.

The film derives most of itsstory-telling energies from a jigsaw structure and the gradual parallelunfolding of Victoria's back story and the circumstances of Darjosh'sdeath. But the film, narratively scanty at 83minutes, signs off frustratingly with little more than an open-ended sense thatlife goes on.

Joner and Hallin hold theattention, exuding mature intelligence, with Hallin'sVictoria slowly warming up through episodes such as a night tippling surgicalalcohol.

But with its modest scaleand narrow range of characters - who hint at a community rather than fullyembodying one - the film finally seems under-developed. Crisp, atmospheric snowvistas define its visual style, as do some austere interiors echoing thecharacters' moods.

But the film is overburdenedby Stale Caspersen's insistent score, and thesoundtrack loses extra points for using Jeff Buckley's version of the LeonardCohen song Hallelujah, fast becomingthe most over-used number in contemporary cinema.

Production companies
Film 3
Norsk Filmstudio
Norsk Filmfond
Nordisk Film & TV Fund
Swedish Film Institute

Scandinavian distribution
Sandrew Metronome Norge

International sales
NonStop Sales

Christian Fredrik Martin
Asle Vatn

Stale Stein Berg
Sara Johnsen

Odd Reinhardt Nicolaysen

Zaklina Stojcevska

Production design
Billy Johansson

Stale Caspersen

Main cast
Annika Hallin
Kristoffer Joner
Goran Ragnerstam
Fridtjov Saheim