Plot: A Ukrainian immigrant with special powers succeeds in entering Poland where he starts working as a masseur in a luxurious compound. As he moves from house to house, meeting different clients, it becomes clearer that this mysterious immigrant’s connection to such a utopian yet empty world is much more than what we initially thought.
Małgorzata Szumowska and Michał Englert’s NEVER GONNA SNOW AGAIN is one of the more interesting and layered films at TIFF this year. Likely to divide audiences, this is smart filmmaking that never reveals all of its cards, intentionally so, leaving viewers enough room for interpretation. Perhaps more so than her previous outings, Szumowska follows a more nuanced, layered approach that does not yield absolute resolutions yet remains rewarding enough to follow and ponder about.
The film shares some elements of science fiction, as Zhenia, the film’s protagonist possess special powers that can control his clients and delve deeper into their pasts. A sort of hypnosis-related powers but also much more than that, Zhenia enters the homes, and lives, of his clients who reside in a fittingly gated community in Poland. As he penetrates their own boundaries and gains their trust, he soon starts to build a cult following and becomes an integral part of their lives.
Beyond the sci-fi elements which do not override the story but rather help flesh out its themes, Szumowska and Englert succeed in creating a layered film that examines coexistence in an environment in which Zhenia gradually becomes part of the local community’s lives only to be swallowed up by their desires and needs. In one way, the directors question whether that coexistence, if at all possible, could be enduring and sustainable only to then, in a pivotal scene, raise further questions as to whether the cult Zhenia had built was due to compassion or, perhaps more likely, due to the local community’s opportunism, greed and emptiness inside. Starting as a masseur but ending up as some sort of healer, friend, confidante, lover and therapist, Zhenia performs multiple roles that make him an unlikely person of value in a community that typically does not welcome immigrants. But has he ever truly integrated in such an exclusive community or was this a result of exploitation or convenience? The filmmakers leave us to examine this fascinating collision and draw conclusions on our own.
The film has a fantastic visual look that perfectly captures the emptiness in each of the gated community’s homes. Behind every door are rich men and women whose traumas are no different than Zhenia’s own, even if they are consumed by their constant desire for social acceptance and social conformity. In a set of dreamy sequences, we uncover each of their traumas, fears and desires, some of which are linked to or awakened by Zhenia himself. And in discovering traces of Zhenia’s own pasts, the filmmakers draw a picture of how we, as humans, are all defined by our pasts no matter the paths we eventually take. We may look different or reside in lush homes or simply refugee tents, but we’re all similar in some way – it just isn’t always possible to reach such a realization.
The film’s end credits indicate that forecasts expect the last snow will fall on earth by 2025. Zhenia’s mother believed that when the earth wants to rest, the snow covers it like a blanket as though comforting it. But in a world constantly plagued with racism, hatred, desperation and greed, will it ever reach a moment of peace? Or perhaps the question is: does it deserve to ever have snow again?
Verdict: A dense, layered and ambiguous tale that examines timely issues with a touch of science fiction, NEVER GONNA SNOW AGAIN is a rewarding experience particularly for arthouse audiences longing for thoughtful, challenging fare.
This review is from the 45th Toronto International Film Festival. Never Gonna Be Kings is the official International Feature Film Oscar submission for Poland.