Never Gonna Snow Again (2020) ☆☆☆(3/4): An odd immigrant masseur in suburbia

What an odd and strange film “Never Gonna Snow Again” is. The movie, which was selected as Poland’s submission to Best International Film Oscar in last year, initially baffled me a lot as I tried to figure out what and how it is about, but its decidedly calm and enigmatic mood gradually engaged me as it effortlessly glided from one curious moment to another along with its elusive hero, and it eventually came to me as a glacial but haunting fable about kindness and compassion.

During the opening scene, the movie subtly sets the tone right after its very first shot, which shows a young man coming out of some moody forest. He is a Ukrainian named Zhenia (Alec Utgoff), and he comes to Poland to work as a masseur, but there is something weird about this guy. According to his immigration papers, he was born in Pripyat, Ukraine seven years before the Chernobyl accident, and that certainly draws that attention of an old immigration official who is going to determine whether Zhenia can stay in Poland or not, but it does not take much time for Zhenia to get what he needs. He turns out to be a skillful hypnotist, and the immigration official soon becomes quite relaxed as Zhenia handles the rest of his work.

After that, we see Zhenia going to an affluent but rather isolated suburban area full of identical houses which will surely make you hum Malvina Reynolds’ song “Little Boxes”. This area may look a bit too artificial to you at first, but I must tell you that, to my little surprise, it is actually a real housing estate in Walendów, eastern Poland, and I am quite impressed by how the movie generates the sterile sense of ennui and boredom within this seemingly comfortable background. We do not see many people on quiet streets except a few passers-by, and those houses look empty sometimes even though we see some of their residents as Zhenia drops by one house after another.

In case of the first house to be visited by Zhenia, it is quite a mess to say the least. The family living there must have had some big party on the previous day, but nothing has been cleaned up yet, and the wife is stuck with this daunting mess after the husband and their son hurriedly leave, but she soon gets relieved once Zhenia begins to work on her body. As she gets more relaxed on his massage bed, he embarks on hypnotizing her, and she finds herself feel a little better in her body and mind once his job is done.

And then we see some other usual clients of his. One of them is a terminal cancer patient who has tried lots of various things for handling his gloomy circumstance along with his concerned wife, and there is a little amusing moment when he later says that he should try hypnosis someday, while having no idea on what Zhenia just did to him before he wakes up. When Zhenia later comes to the house belonging to a frigid middle-aged lady, she gradually becomes softer as talking with him, and she surely gets relaxed more when she reaches to her unconsciousness via Zhenia’s hypnosis.

Meanwhile, the movie also pays some attention to Zhenia’s private life. He is living alone in a cheap apartment without making any connection with his neighbors except a woman who constantly struggles with handling her pet dog, and he frequently dreams about his childhood memory associated with, yes, the Chernobyl accident and what he lost during that tragic period. In addition, there is some problem with his current status as an immigrant worker, and it seems quite possible that he may be deported at any point.

Nevertheless, he keeps trying to comfort and help his suburban clients as usual, and many of them appreciate his service a lot, though some of them find themselves emotionally attached to Zhenia a little too much. There is a little humorous moment of misunderstanding involved with two of his clients, and then we get a melodramatic scene when the wife of that cancer patient comes to depend on Zhenia more than expected later in the story.

While never clarifying what its hero exactly feels and thinks, the movie continues to dole out oddly compelling moments to intrigue and fascinate us more thanks to the competent direction of co-directors/co-writers/co-producers Małgorzata Szumowska and Michał Englert, who also handles the cinematography of the film. Many of the key scenes in the movie are impressive for their precise scene composition and evocative atmosphere, and we accordingly come to accept several surreal moments including the one associated with the very title of the film.

As the center of the story, Alec Utgoff, a Russian actor whom you may recognize for his supporting turn in the third season of Netflix drama series “Stranger Things” (That actually helped him get cast for this film, by the way), diligently carries the film while deftly embodying his character’s uncanny aspects. He is also supported well by a number of different performers including Maja Ostaszewska, Weronika Rosati, Łukasz Simlat, Katarzyna Figura, Andrzej Chyra, and Agata Kulesza, who is solid as she was in Paweł Pawlikowski’s “Ida” (2013) and “Cold War” (2018).

In conclusion, “Never Gonna Snow Again” is your average arthouse film which will demand some patience from you due to its dry storytelling and slow narrative pacing, but it is still worthwhile to watch for its distinctive qualities to be appreciated. To be frank with you, I don’t think I totally get it, but it lingers on my mind even at this point, and I am willing to revisit it someday for more understanding and appreciation.

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