Never Gonna Snow Again review – rich brew of strangeness in unsettling suburbia

There’s a rich confectionery of strangeness, sadness and fear to this very absorbing film by the Polish film-maker Małgorzata Szumowska, co-writing and directing with cinematographer Michał Englert. The title, incidentally, relates to a purported theory declaimed deadpan over the closing credits that there will be no snowfall after the year 2025 due to the climate crisis. (I don’t know if that’s true, but I’ve never been so scared in my life. Perhaps this film should be played to the delegates at the Cop26 UN Climate Change Conference in Glasgow, so they can all be terrified into action.)

The setting is an eerily blank suburban scene: a smug, prosperous but dysfunctional community in a gated development, with identical white McMansion-style houses whose occupants all have their own secrets. It is in fact the Ventana housing estate in Walendów, eastern Poland, a place that looks so weirdly uniform that an overhead shot makes it look like a model, and a plotline about teenagers manufacturing drugs put me in mind of American Beauty, just a little.

The bored and unsatisfied inhabitants are of a-flutter, due to a Ukrainian masseur called Zhenia (Alec Utgoff), who comes to people’s houses with his foldaway massage table and administers physio- and hypnotherapy and works wonders. Zhenia’s ministrations are electrifying everyone. But as it happens, Zhenia comes from Chernobyl, and he is plagued with agonised dreams and memories of his mother, and of the clouds of radioactive dust that looked like snow to him. As Zhenia makes his house calls in the suburbs, autumn turns to winter, Halloween comes and goes and Christmas is on the way, but it doesn’t snow, no matter how bitterly cold it gets.

There is some awful psychic pain in the air: Zhenia can sense it. Perhaps he can cure it. But perhaps it will involve some great sacrifice. Utgoff’s presence is distinctly unsettling: he looks innocent, idealistic, faintly pained and ascetic, with a dancer’s grace and a robot’s mystery. He is perhaps a little like Terence Stamp in Pasolini’s Theorem, but far more sweet-natured and less intimidating. This is a fairytale: but a fantasy with solidity and form.

Never Gonna Snow Again is released on 15 October in cinemas.

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