‘Never Gonna Snow Again’ — Desperate Housewives meet Matilda in this wonderfully strange portrait of Poland | LFF Review
They say: “don’t judge a book by its cover.” But is it okay to judge a film based on its stills?
Every year during the London Film Festival, I flip through the programme and choose a film based purely on how interesting the still looks. These films aren’t the highlight of the festival and will tend to have less crowded cinemas, but they truly embrace the heart of film festivals: they’re independent, original, creative works of art. And they always end up being my favourite films at the festival.
This year, I scrolled through the digital programme (a far less satisfying feeling) and landed on Małogorzata Szumowska’s Never Gonna Snow Again. Szumowska’s film follows quiet and mysterious (and slightly sexy) personal masseuse, Zenia (Alec Utgoff), as he makes house calls in a middle-class suburban community in Poland. Zenia is an immigrant (possible outlaw — we never know) from Ukraine, where he grew up within the radiation zone of Chernobyl. The side-effect of his radioactive exposure is perfect massaging hands that are able to hypnotise and memorise any of his clients with just a touch.
The Desperate Housewives meet Matilda in this wonderfully strange and bizarrely funny portrait of a part of Poland we rarely get to see. It’s a film layered with subtext (in fact, it requires multiple viewings to fully grasp the multitude of the suburban drama) that captivates from beginning to end. You leave the film having more questions than answers, but that is perhaps the reason why you can’t stop watching. It’s a glorious black comedy that effortlessly juggles the mixing of personalities and peoples without making you feel overwhelmed by the number of narratives you are asked to follow.
Alec Utgoff shines as Zenia: his emotionless performance, which I say endearingly, is the perfect vessel for you to become engulfed in this middle-class world. He is odd but mystifying; we never get to know his history or the extent of his radioactive powers, and we never understand why he, in fact, hypnotises his clients — to just snoop around in their belongings? To get a taste of what wealth is like? You want to understand this character’s intentions, but Szumowska never allows you to. It’s a film that asks you to fill in the blanks, forcing your mind to go on a delightful imaginative trip. But Never Gonna Snow Again is truly an ensemble film, as each neighbour is able to hold their own, adding to the craziness of this weird culdesac. Not one performance faltered, all as outlandish as the last.
Szumowska creates a magical, but worrisome, world within the film: the grim backdrop of Polish winter paired with the opulence of the identical homes leaves you feeling uneasy, always wondering if something horrible is going to happen to our protagonist. But it doesn’t. Yes, there’s death and drama around him, but he’s always on the peripherals, watching, like us, these lives unfold. The film's aesthetic adds to the narrative, building a world that is relatable but unreal all the same.
Suzumowska’s film effortlessly blends realism with surrealism, transporting you into a magical world that is nowhere but next door. Never Gonna Snow Again doesn’t offer you answers; nor, does it make any sense. But that’s its charm. It’s a strange, surreal film that captures the wonderment of art cinema, without losing itself along the way.
Never Gonna Snow Again is part of the BFI’s 64th London Film Festival and will be available on the BFI Player on 11 October 2020 at 20:30