Bil’s rating (out of 5): BB.5
Original Title: Sniegu juz nigdy nie bedzie
Poland/Germany, 2020. Lava Films, Match Factory Productions, Warszawski Fundusz Filmowy, Maziowiecki Fundusz Filmowy, Kino Swiat, DI Factory, Bayerischer Rundfunk, ARTE, Polski Instytut Sztuki Filmowej, Film- und Medienstiftung NRW, Deutscher Filmforderfonds, Medienboard Berlin-Brandenburg, Polsko-Niemiecki Fundusz Filmowy, Cinecopro Award, Amsterdam Post Lab. Screenplay by Malgorzata Szumowska, Michal Englert. Cinematography by Michal Englert. Produced by Michal Englert, Viola Fugen, Malgorzata Szumowska, Agnieszka Wasiak, Michael Weber, Mariusz Wlodarski. Production Design by Jagna Janicka. Costume Design by Katarzyna Lewinska. Film Editing by Agata Cierniak, Jaroslaw Kaminski. Venice Film Festival 2020.
A newly built Warsaw neighbourhood of luxury homes sits almost artificially outside the city’s dark core, one McMansion a copy of the next, each surrounded by a perfectly manicured, almost artificial-looking lawn and every house featuring big, beautiful windows that let the sunlight in as curious eyes look out into their neighbours’ lives. Walking from one residence to the next is a young man holding a massage table named Zhenia (Alec Utgoff), a soft-spoken, hunky mystery whose hands emit spiritual and physical calm on the clients he services daily. He walks into this gated community every day from his own rundown downtown apartment building, listening quietly to gossip and responding only occasionally to the various slices of nouveau riche life that director Malgorzata Szumowska can’t even try to hide her contempt for: Maja Ostaszewska as a bored housewife who lets her spoiled children run ragged all over, Katarzyna Figura as a slightly tipsy, lonely woman who is obsessed with her slobbering dogs, Agata Kulesza as a widow who has survived her own bouts with illness, and Lukasz Simlat as a father with cancer who believes his natural remedies are going to cure his illness once and for all. Zhenia’s relationship with each figure develops slowly as he returns to this coldly pristine enclave every day, while at home he is dogged by the feeling that people are coming after him. Zhenia was born in Chernobyl a few years before the nuclear accident that threatened to end the world, and it’s possible that his gifts on the massage table and his skills with hypnosis have to do with abilities developed under the superhero-forming conditions of the place he once lived. His mother haunts his memories as much as his horrible visions of the past, recollections that involve falling ash that his childhood perspective interpreted as snow but was actually something far worse. Szumowska is an expert creator of images, this film is one of the most polished she’s ever created and the story’s metaphysical possibilities are enticing, but whatever relevance is symbolized by Ukrainian Zhenia’s presence in a neighbouring Iron Curtain country is lost on anyone not familiar with the country’s political history. Even that, though, is not nearly as frustrating as the painfully obvious allegories involved in the client characters, each of whom stand so plainly as symbols of the country’s elite class and its inability to connect with reality that they might as well be sociology term papers instead of people.