Malgorzara Szuniwska and creative partner and co-director Michal Englert provide a magically offbeat film in Never Gonna Snow Again that hypnotically reels you into a world where being wealthy isn’t the be-all and end-all of life.
A Ukrainian immigrant, Zhenia (Alec Utgoff) was born several years after Chernobyl works as a masseur in Poland and works around his usual clientele in a wealthy gated community in the suburbs. As he moves from house to house he sees that unhappiness envelopes this community, each trying to get more of his special skills upon each visit.
Never Gonna Snow Again echoes 1968 film Teorema with a mysterious stranger changing those around him. Here we step away from the sexual allegory and move to a socioeconomic one. Unhappiness is rife, despite their rich lives, with the feeling that something is missing in them. We find unhappy marriages, families taking risks they shouldn’t and more. What could be an easily by the numbers film from its premise hooks you in with the magnetic performances of the cast, we feel their doubts and fears. Their anger and frustrations, they are unhappy for a reason and thanks to Zhenia, we discover why.
Zhenia presents each of his clients with silent compassion. He listens as they vent, he compliments and reassures them when needed. But these simple interactions, but perhaps due to how segregating these residents have become from the life that they have forgotten that feeling of being cared about. Zhenia utilises his hypnosis skills to try and ease the worries of his clients, hoping to make them better people or to remember what they were possible like before wealth came to them. Before this community was built.
For that, the community bring him in as one of their own, or do they? Are they welcoming him as he is helping so many or are they merely acting as they always do and wanting him close so they can exploit his talents more? They grow jealous of things they see through neighbours windows. Unhappiness will remain unless they want to be rid of it. It is a fascinating question to ask and Szumowska and Englert allow the audience to draw their conclusion on the matter.
For all of Zhenia’s interactions, one that stuck with me in Never Gonna Snow Again. Throughout was the man with terminal cancer. He wants to live, desperately wants to live a long happy life. His utter hopelessness in that Zhenia’s massages and all the money he has put into his treatment is working is devastatingly tragic. The man’s wife and Zhenia know it will not work and that he is merely distracting himself from the inevitable. He invites Zhenia to a play, full of hope.
It is not until deeper into the film that he realises himself that all the medicine in the world is more of a stay of execution as he emotionally breaks down from the effect of illegal drugs given to him by other neighbours. His arc is an utter heart wrenching one to follow. A beautiful when he is under hypnosis from Zhenia has him talk of the beauty in the world as darkness form the night sky begins to shroud over him. It is a small example of the clever work that Szumowska and Englert utilise here and it is so effective.
Alec Utgoff’s silent Zhenia is the perfect vessel for us to see these peoples life. He observes and takes advantage of them restful in playful scenes spread throughout the film. He remains stoic, unless it is around dogs, rarely giving away his true thoughts. It is a refrained, but a powerful performance from Utgoff.
The use of colour palettes in Never Gonna Snow Again by Szumowska and Englert are bold. Seen in a beautifully edited sequence of Zhenias gazing at a painting that then transforms the screen with colour. Until we are hastily brought back to his morning routine in a dull blue filter. Even when in these rich homes everything appears duller. That although these people are well off, their plain white homes and neutral colour schemes show they are not living, only experiencing their lives. A large group of people with money to burn and no joy to show from it.
Even though it runs at almost 2 hours, there is still a lot left unsaid or not fully expanded upon in Never Gonna Snow Again. This doesn’t detract from the film however and allows the audience to fill in the blanks around these characters. That is a great deal of trust from a filmmaker. It is a film that intrigues and pulls you in, much as this community has with our magnetic masseur.
To view more of our reviews as we cover the London Film Festival 2020, please have a gander below!
The Painter and the Thief ★★★★ – LFF 2020