Review: Healing hands lend mystery to opaque drama ‘Never Gonna Snow Again’
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“Never Gonna Snow Again,” Poland’s submission for the 2021 international film Oscar, is an intriguing, hypnotic, often beautiful but ultimately inconclusive dramedy. It might be best enjoyed — and understood — if viewed as what’s been called a “traveling angel” story: an outsider with, perhaps, otherworldly qualities, swoops onto the scene, fixes the other characters’ problems and then takes off on his or her next “mission.” (Here’s to you, “Being There.”)
In other words, don’t look for logic or literalness here, but rather magic and metaphor and let the film’s transporting, imaginative elements take over. Directed by Malgorzata Szumowska and co-directed by Michal Englert (they also co-wrote plus Englert shot the film), “Snow” follows the daily routine of Zhenia (Alec Utgoff), a Ukrainian immigrant newly arrived in Poland who works as a visiting masseuse in an upscale gated community filled with cookie-cutter McMansions. (An actual housing development in suburban Warsaw was used.)
He’s welcomed into these white, boxy homes like a family member and enjoys an easy intimacy with his clients, who believe that the hands of the fit and soulful Zhenia have healing powers. And maybe they do — or maybe that’s just what these tenuous folks need to believe. Either way, he makes them feel all kinds of better, helping them deal with loneliness, tobacco and alcohol addictions, cancer, anger and a host of other personal issues.
His many female clients take a seductive stance with Zhenia but he seems to have a certain, let’s say, fungible code of honor. But it’s one of many traits we must intuit about the elusive fellow, including that he possesses an ability for telekinesis and a facility with hypnosis (he sometimes puts people out by simple touch).
These and other “skills” may be the result of growing up near the site of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster — it’s said he was born seven years to the day before the accident — but, again, that could just be part of the story’s surreal, fable-like approach. Even the movie’s environmental messages, reflected in the title, come off a bit allegorical.
The film is largely episodic as Zhenia moves in and out of his customers’ often sad, static lives, which can make for some sluggish pacing. But the filmmakers have crafted such a visually stirring canvas — Englert’s moody cinematography is superb — and Utgoff (Dr. Alexei on Netflix’s “Stranger Things”) holds our interest as he deftly embodies and embraces his character’s innate mysteries, that patient viewers will be rewarded.
The ending, for those who don’t like their movies tied up in a bow, couldn’t be more fitting.
Sound design and the classically-infused score are also tops.
'Never Gonna Snow Again'
In Polish, Russian, French and Vietnamese with English subtitles
Running time: 1 hour, 53 minutes
Playing: Starts Aug. 6, Laemmle Royal, West L.A.; Laemmle Town Center 5, Encino; Laemmle Playhouse 7, Pasadena
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