Written and directed by Malgorzata Szumowska and Michal Englert, Zhenia (Alec Utgoff) a Russian-speaking immigrant from the East works as a masseur in Poland and becomes a guru-like figure in a wealthy gated community where his clients live. Also starring: Maja Ostaszewska, Agata Kulesza, Weronika Rosati, Katarzyna Figura and Lukasz Simlat.
The film opens following Zhenia as he walks through the city, it’s slow and mysterious but gradually the film reveals itself to be not ominous or sinister as you might expect but hopeful, offbeat and unusual. It’s of the quality that wouldn’t necessarily be classed as quirky, it’s more of the odd variety, it marches to the beat of its own drum. The story starts on such a strange note, adding this indeterminable air to Zhenia, getting some mystery going strong then quickly moves on to his massage clients in what should be a jarring side-step but in fact slides very naturally into the humour which the film holds.
One of the biggest strengths of this film is how it handles comedy, its timing is absolutely brilliant, bringing through a lot of it in a very deadpan manner that works so well with its laced up, wealthy setting. The writing also excels at creating that coincidental style humour, adding a few touches here and there that are too close to be coincidences and are so effective in emphasising the strangeness of its atmosphere. It’s almost as if the film exists in a slightly altered version of reality, living mostly in this bubble of a Stepford Wives-esque community. Not to mention that the writer-director duo clearly know the way to a film fan’s heart, with an impromptu dance sequence, which is impressively done in the sense that it should be entirely awkward but the confidence with which it’s performed simply makes it a joy to watch and adds even more layers to Zhenia’s character.
Utgoff does a fantastic job of bringing him to life, there are so many different qualities to him and yet he still leaves you feeling like there’s many more to be found. He has this very accessible air to him, he’s so open and calm that he’s instantly likable but in the moments where he gets to show his personality, he only becomes more likable. There’s a very complex air to him, he’s a man of few words for the most part but his physical reactions say much more, which is certainly only intensified by his intriguing special ability to relax others, making him somehow a simple man wrapped up in an enigma. It’s such a restrained, stoic performance for the most part but he brings out these little sparkling moments that are heartfelt and happy, it’s an utterly brilliant performance. Additionally, there’s a superb ensemble cast portraying the clients and residents of the neighbourhood, they’re all very different and each of them has their own eccentricities making them an eclectic, dramatic and energetic bunch.
Szumowska and Englert’s direction has almost a classic fable or fairy tale air to it, the way that the camera moves is like it’s taking everything in and reflecting the audience’s experience of seeing it for the first time. It also gives a slightly haunting presence to the neighbourhood, using wide encroaching shots of the its almost identical houses, that land somewhere between Stepford and Seahaven. Their style really succinctly blends with the story in creating mystery and playfully capturing the oddness to it, as well as adding this lingering loneliness to Zhenia’s experience of being surrounded by people but never really seen by them. All of which is wonderfully supported by superb cinematography from writer-director Englert, it’s strong from the very beginning and the very textured visual adds a lot to the film’s rich atmosphere.
Never Gonna Snow Again is strange and brilliant, it can’t be denied that this odd tone may not work for everyone but for those who can embrace it, it’s a wonderfully eccentric yet heartfelt story. The film creates a balance that not many filmmakers could pull off, it’s funny, clever and quiet yet peculiar and with a touch of the mystical or supernatural. Alec Utgoff has given some great performances in his English-language projects but none of them have given him a role quite like this to sink his teeth into and he’s sincerely a pleasure to watch, what he does with Zhenia is excellent. It’s well directed, edited, written, acted, shot and is simply a great viewing experience, it’s so unexpected and unique, this is one to seek out.