As the title suggests, the arrival of snow seems to blanket all discord, unite people in wonder and instill a momentary pause for reflection. The idea of snow never settling again seems unimaginable, even doleful. In Polish co-directors Malgorzata Szumowska and Michal Englert’s hypnotic new drama, Never Gonna Snow Again, with its twinkles of humour scattered throughout, the title also points to the background of the film’s mysterious lead character, a ‘healing’ masseur called Zhenia (Stranger Things actor Alec Utgoff) who we see at the start making the journey from the Ukraine into Poland.
Flashbacks suggest he is a child of the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear accident, which saw radioactive dust fall from the sky like snow as a result. In searching for a new life in the West, Zhenia can put this troubled past to rest, hoping never to see fake snow falling again, and put his remarkable healing hands to more prosperous use. There is also a supernatural element in the opening scene which makes us wonder at Zhenia’s true origins, like he is some ethereal presence. This suggestion continues throughout the film too.
At some point in time, a striking-looking Utgoff as Zhenia arrives with his massage table at an affluent gated community, full of neatly-arranged, large white mansions, pampered pooches and many dark secrets. There is a fascination for the viewer in discovering what each household’s secret is, before it is revealed. Zhenia is that key that opens up the can of worms, as he politely goes about his work, though sometimes, unwittingly becoming an adjudicator many family disputes.
Utgoff is utterly compelling as Zhenia, impassive but majestic in stance, as he presides over the domestic woes of his clientele. His enigmatic allure is not only the limit of his mysterious mind control methods, but also deciphering what level of threat he poses as he puts his wealthy patrons to sleep then takes his time to explore their abode.
The wonderful irony from the filmmakers here, is how an Ukrainian immigrant of seemingly lower socioeconomic standing – as we sometimes see Zhenia in his sparsely-furnished and tiny high-rise flat in the city – easily enters these people’s lives for the better and provides support to them as they experience relationship problems to cancer dramas. Through cinema, Szumowska and Englert are asking us to reflect on the urgent, real-life immigration crisis in the world right now.
That said, we are acutely reminded of Zhenia’s lower social standing, as the bourgeois elite like drug-taking widow Ewa (Agata Kulesza) still treats him with disdain for his lack of culture and knowledge. They openly expressing their views on the migrant problem, dismissing him as being ‘not one of them’, before putting him back in his place, even as they invest their last hopes of healing in his curious powers. Each household drama provides a relevant commentary on the differences between the haves and have-nots in Polish suburbia. The filmmakers are careful though, not to turn these characters into caricatures, but keep the issues that arise universal and transferable into any privileged environment.
The moments of satire and respite come from Zhenia massaging flatulent dogs, to observing philandering residents popping in and out of each other’s houses, to him having a drink with the gatekeeper who mocks the masseur daily on arrival. Again, after this last scene, we see Zhenia’s curious powers take effect on the local lighting that suggest he is radioactive, if not something otherworldly, especially in the last scene.
2020 Venice Film Festival winner Never Gonna Snow Again provides so much fascinating social commentary to digest in an aesthetically-pleasing environment. It is less openly controversial than Szumowska’s previous work, but her directing collaboration with cinematographer Englert in this new tale situated in their native country results in a visually sumptuous, albeit capricious affair.