The first human we meet is Marco (Simon Wisler), his massive back and shoulders complementing a silent presence. He bonds with the cows that he works with on a farm, including one named Freida. It is no diss to say that Marco is essentially a cow—moving along from one place to another, with the same gentle silence. When one of the cows that Marco is working with on the farm is taken to slaughter, it scares him like a premonition.
Marco is cared for by his new wife, Anna (Michèle Brand), who works at a restaurant/hotel hybrid, and also serves as a mailwoman for their small town. Care might be an understatement—she upholds him, she tries to make him a person. And she has no perfect compass herself, given the company she keeps with one of the restaurant’s patrons sometimes, in a worldview left unspoken. “A Piece of Sky” does not care about moralizing but presenting everything as it is.
One day, Marco gets into a motorcycle accident, which leads to a CT scan that detects a brain tumor. With just a few words, the doctor paints a picture of what’s next, including a lack of control on compulsions. Marco gets surgery, and we see a big scar on his head. He struggles to work, to have a purpose.
Marco, despite his hulking size, begins to minimize; now it is Anna’s shoulders that we follow behind through the spare snowy landscape, as she decides what actions are right with the burden that Marco has brought. The film does not romanticize the relationship, her choices, or even the polarizing empathy that makes for a striking third act. But the humanity does resonate in between the casually wondrous parts of this world: Koch gives us a long shot of bales of hay zip-lining through the clouds and crashing into the center of the frame, as if dropped from the sky.
Koch is restrained with music, but always makes you appreciate its presence. Haddaway’s “What is Love?” reverberates throughout the film, not just because it’s played twice as we see Marco and Anna in marital status—dancing at their wedding, and later driving, her hand on his shoulder—but because it doesn’t feel so out of place. Its title question is so sincere. And since there are so few rules in this story, Koch wields a slightly fantastical touch by bookending dramatic passages with a choir. Blocked with precision in the alpine landscape, they sing in immaculately framed wide shots in front of waterfalls or on a beach about a person’s downfall, and the afterlife.