Never Gonna Snow Again is a compelling, if slightly inaccessible contemporary fable on the follies of the upper class.
For as long as movies have existed, there have been films based on fairy tales and myths. As a matter of fact, what is widely recognized as the first narrative film, Georges Méliès’ A Trip to the Moon, draws heavily on fantasy elements found in children’s stories, such as wizards and far off planets. These fantastical elements allow big ideas to be explored through easily understandable narratives. Other famous examples include My Fair Lady as a riff of Pygmalion and O Brother, Where Art Thou? as a musical retelling of The Odyssey. The latest in the long line of fairytale-inspired movies is Małgorzata Szumowska and Michał Englert’s intriguing new film Never Gonna Snow Again (Śniegu Już Nigdy Nie Będzie), screening this week at BAM’s Kino Polska exhibit on New Polish Cinema.
The plot for Never Gonna Snow Again is a simple one, and could easily be a bedtime story told from a mother to her children. A Russian immigrant named Zhenia (Alec Utgoff, of Stranger Things fame) working as a masseur gradually begins to change the lives of the residents of an upper-class community. From this simple premise, Szumowska and Englert explore topics ranging from social inequality to PTSD without feeling preachy or overloading the audience with mature content. Their direction is remarkably restrained, with minimal camera movement and economical editing that allows the viewer to draw their own conclusions about the inner lives of their characters.
Though it takes heavy inspiration from mythic elements, at its heart Never Gonna Snow Again is an ensemble character study. Utgoff in the lead role is sublime: the naivete that made his Stranger Things character Alexi a fan favorite comes off more like an old soul than an oblivious child. He is always entertaining to watch, whether he’s performing a magic act or simply enjoying a fleeting moment of sun. His character, however, is less developed, though this may be on purpose, as the focus of the film lies not on Zhenia, but how his presence affects others. We know frustratingly little of him besides his past in Pripyat (and possible connection to the Chernobyl disaster) and his status as a possibly illegal immigrant.
The supporting characters, however, are much richer and give the film the energy it needs to stay interesting. Veteran polish actors Maja Ostaszewska, Agata Kulesza, and Andrzej Chyra round out the principal cast, each subtly conveying a different flavor of despair that comes with being rich and having nothing to do. All three, as well as the rest of the supporting cast, do a fantastic job turning their characters into real people, it is perhaps the film’s greatest strength.
While the character work in Never Gonna Snow Again is admirable, what Szumowska and Englert choose to explore with their characters is equally as compelling. Specifically, the light but pointed critique of the lifestyle of the upper-class shines through as one of the film’s strongest throughlines. While Zhenia has to trick a bureaucrat into giving him a housing pass, the residents of the community he services seem to almost have too much space, with minimally designed interiors and identical facades the neighborhood feels more like a museum than a place where families are being raised. Additionally, while each of the residents has their own set of problems, none of their issues can be traced to an external force. Whether it is aging or addiction or plain old alienation, the residents have no one to blame for their problems but themselves. It’s a subtle critique, one whose nuances would be missed by the casual observer, but well-executed nonetheless.
By the time the credits of the film roll, Never Gonna Snow Again has given us 100 minutes of magical realism that is sure to delight those who know what they are getting into. While some might be put off by the film’s slow pace and priority of character over plot, the aforementioned performances and stunning cinematography by Michał Englert will keep even the most inattentive viewer engaged. A small story with a big heart that’s told with empathy and care.
Never Gonna Snow Again will have its New York Premiere at BAM’s “Kino Polska: New Polish Cinema” Series. The film will be screened April 30th – May 6th on BAM’s virtual streaming platform.