Never Gonna Snow Again (2020) BFI LFF Review

Never Gonna Snow Again (2020)
Directors: Malgorzata Szumowska, Michal Englert
Screenwriters: Malgorzata Szumowska, Michal Englert
Starring: Alec Utgoff, Maja Ostaszewska, Agata Kulesza, Weronika Rosati, Katarzyna Figura, Lukasz Simlat, Andrzej Chyra

Imagine a superhero film that takes aim at the upper middle classes and borrows moments from the work of legendary Soviet-era filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky and you’ve got something close to new Polish film Never Gonna Snow Again. Infrequent in its fantastical elements and deliberate in pace and tone, this Malgorzata Szumowska and Michal Englert co-written and co-directed project takes a degree of inspiration from the director of such classics as Stalker, Solaris and The Sacrifice, and offers a less spectacular and more bourgeois take on the superhero genre at the same time; though whether it is an homage to Tarkovsky or superhero films, or an attempted mocking of either, is not entirely clear. Never Gonna Snow Again walks an opaic albeit interesting line between the two as it offers something that massages its unusual yet somehow welcoming tone into your skin, asking that for most of its runtime you go along for its soothing ride.

There’s a hint of Dogville about Never Gonna Snow Again, the universe that the film largely occupies being a newly built suburban development on the outskirts of a major Polish city, the village very much imitating the white picket fence suburban areas of the United States in both layout and appearance, the residents being so secluded from reality that their concerns are absent of money, of time and largely of consequences; our hero – Zenia (Alec Utgoff – ‘Stranger Things’), an immigrant to Poland born in the Ukraine’s nuclear disaster zone, Chernobyl – seeming to bring a daily purpose to their lives, the village evolving due to his arrival. Though not quite as minimalist as the building/furniture-less Lars von Trier directed social commentary, the bare, characterless streets and grey painted housing remain reminiscent of the themes von Trier approached in his 2003 film, Zenia’s role not too dissimilar to that of Kidman’s Grace in how he too arrives from another place and is welcomed by the locals despite his differences due to his usefulness to their relatively privileged existences. Unlike in Dogville, however, Never Gonna Snow Again leaves us as to no doubt that its protagonist is the one in control of any given situation, the hero of the piece actively altering the sub-world he comes to occupy, at first with healing massage, later more obviously by turning off street lights to physically alter its appearance. Never Gonna Snow Again, like the aforementioned Dogville, borrows actively from the Western formula too, Zenia acting as a cowboy entering a new town in the old west, his quiet yet domineering demeanour echoing the likes of The Man with No Name, his gun here being his hands. Given that the superhero films that dominate the modern box office are considered, largely, to be the westerns of the modern day, the influence could not be more apt for a film so dedicated to the genre.

The standout aspect of Never Gonna Snow Again is without a doubt the way it presents the hero’s powers. We see him dictate electricity, move a cup with his mind in a mirroring of a famous shot from Tarkovsky’s Stalker, and yet his powers are put to work in menial ways by people insistent upon a hero to solve their bourgeois problems. Here, Zenia isn’t a fire-fighting, world-saving protagonist, he’s a masseuse – not the hero the world needs, but the hero these people want right now. The film is bullet pointed by scenes set in a snowy forest, scenes we will come to understand as being this film’s “sunken place” (to borrow from Get Out), an environment of peace and of release that the tenants of this strange suburban universe are sent to when under the hypnotic spell of Zenia’s mind control. Despite being able to manipulate objects and people, and no doubt influence the world around him to a large degree, Zenia is content with fulfilling the basic needs of a small group, this very dynamic making for some great moments of absurdist comedy and for a telling deconstruction of the superhero genre’s persistently US-centric, and therefore US-concerned, output.

The action of Never Gonna Snow Again is soft and slow, as much meaning coming from acknowledging how Zenia pretends not to understand certain things as it does from seeing him physically manipulate parts of his world. The film’s deliberate camera movements and rhythmic editing are no doubt primarily interested in establishing a tone that echoes Zenia’s most often used talent; that being to soothe. In watching Never Gonna Snow Again, there is a palpable sense of wanting to experience the world Zenia takes us to, of wanting to live amongst the characters (of varying interest) that he comes into contact with. By the film’s conclusion, you want to spend more time with him, you want to stay in this strange subculture, and in turn you want to remain in the soft grasp of the film in a wider context, the sound of the Never Gonna Snow Again’s leitmotif by Dmitri Shostakovich – “The Second Waltz” – echoing through your mind.

Never Gonna Snow Again is as much an interesting dissection of all that it pays homage to as it is a product of its time, enjoyment of this film resting as heavily on understanding the referential nature of its construction as on its efforts as an art piece unto itself. In that sense it feels more like a product of art than of consumerism, a piece intended to be experienced, unraveled and explored, rather than enjoyed. That is not to say that it can’t be enjoyed in a vacuum, only that the intentions of the filmmakers were elsewhere, that the purpose of the piece is one more of commentary on our contemporary film landscape or our wider societal disillusionment, not to mention class, than it is to make money.

Never Gonna Snow Again is a soothing, Tarkovsky and superhero-movie inspired piece with a hypnotic tone that will seep into your skin, but it’s not about to be the biggest international film of the year like some of its national contemporaries from the 2010s (namely Cold War). To some this will prove challenging, and to others it will prove enlightening, but generally the verdict will read: interesting.


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