CAPSULE: NEVER GONNA SNOW AGAIN (2020)

Sniegu juz nigdy nie bedzie

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DIRECTED BY: Malgorzata Szumowska, Michal Englert

FEATURING: Alec Utgoff, Maja Ostaszewska, Agata Kulesza, Weronika Rosati, Katarzyna Figura, Lukasz Simlat, Krzysztof Czeczot, Andrzej Chyra

PLOT: Residents of a gated community in Poland believe a mysterious Ukrainian masseur has special powers.

Still from Never Gonna Snow Again (2020)

COMMENTS: Mystery masseur Zhenia was born in Pripyat, the closest town to Chernobyl, seven years before the reactor melted down and exploded. That event was in 1986, which means that Zhenia was born in 1979. Stalker was released in 1979.

Of course, those dates could be coincidences, but its worth mentioning that later Never Gonna Snow Again will directly quote a scene from Stalker, and the ghost of (alongside Pier Paolo Pasolini, by way of Teorema) haunts the production. This movie is thick with allusions, feints, and mysterious possible connections that never quite cohere. The premise is simple enough: Zhenia begins peddling his massage services to residents of a wealthy Polish gated community. Everyone feels incredible and energized after a session, and the neighborhood comes to believe his hands have extraordinary healing powers. It also turns out that he is a gifted amateur hypnotist whose techniques can give their psyches the equivalent of a deep tissue massage. He becomes a central figure in the lives of a number of the families living in this tract of luxurious but nearly identical suburban homes, most notably an alcoholic woman, a man fighting cancer, an aging bohemian and her drug-chemist son, a woman obsessed with her three dogs, and an ex-soldier with a nasty temper.

This setup gives Never Gonna Snow Again ample space to explore many possible avenues, from the social to the personal to the existential. It’s a movie that begs for an allegorical interpretation, but I’m not sure it plays fair with the audience on that count. The story leaves a lot of loose thematic ends, with no hints on how to correctly tie them up. Is it a parable about immigrants? A social satire of the new Polish bourgeoisie? An environmental warning? A Christ allegory? Is the story actually about Zhenia’s childhood? Why the Stalker references? Why do the children believe it will never snow again? Why do the neighbors feel better after meeting with Zhenia, even though their lives don’t materially improve? What’s the meaning of Zhenia’s relationship with dogs? Why does Zhenia speak fluent Vietnamese?

That’s just a small sample of the movie’s unanswered questions. Ambiguity is a tricky thing. Wielded well, it can produce powerful intellectual and emotional effects. But a little bit can go a long way, and loose ends are easier to deal with if there is at least one strong central idea to latch onto. When nothing links up, you are left only to appreciate the aesthetics; a hit-or-miss affair that depends on your subjective preferences. Never Gonna Snow Again impressed art-house critics, which is why it has a 94% positive rating on Rotten Tomatoes and will be Poland’s submission to this year’s Oscars. Many praised Alec Utgoff‘s performance, but I found him pleasantly bland, lacking the supernatural presence brought to Teorema (a tall order, admittedly, but almost a necessary element for a fable like this to work). The cinematography and sound design are outstanding, but they’re only pieces of the puzzle. You need to be attuned to slow cinema and the subtler shades of weirdness to fall for this one.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Desire and delirium in Eastern Europe, with an undertow of eco-anxiety, make for a bizarre hybrid, somewhere between Twin Peaks and Pasolini’s Theorem…heads all the way into the territory of surreal satire to eerie and intriguing effect.”–Jonathan Romney, Screen Daily (festival review)

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