In a wealthy gated Polish estate, made up of rows and rows of newly built, spacious and identical houses, dissatisfaction settles over everything. Couples observe tense silences, commit affairs, and struggle to connect with their children. While all their homes look alike, they couldn’t be more separate from each other, and gossiping happens as soon as doors are closed. As they push further on into winter, something in the atmosphere is observably not right.
Enter Zhenia, a young, Russian-speaking survivor of Chernobyl who spends his days moving from house to house, performing massages on different residents. His talents extend beyond physical relaxation, he seemingly has a miraculous therapeutic ability to absolve people of all their sadness and anxiety, and before long he is regularly hypnotising the troubled homeowners. What’s the meaning behind this vexing story? Writer-directors Malgorzata Szumowska and Michal Englert never quite spell it out, and while there’s a lot of imagery and subtext to puzzle over, we’re left with a film that is largely inaccessible.
There’s something enigmatic and undeniably compelling about the central performance by Alec Utgoff as Zhenia. His presence is so comforting to the people he meets, without him being overly expressive or charismatic. The film’s cinematography by Englert is cold and clinical, making us feel that, like Zhenia, the camera is impassive towards his rich clients. There’s something unspoken about how these entitled, self-involved people collectively see Zhenia. His demeanor is contradictorily detached but intense, and all the estate’s populace are drawn to him for reasons that elude the audience.
It’s initially intriguing trying to work out what it is Zhenia is supposed to represent, especially after some visual clues reveal the extent of his powers, but as the runtime rolls on, the film’s glacial pace can feel punishing and the narrative seems repetitive. Zhenia moves between houses over and over, listening to the occupants’ varied problems. You get the feeling Szumowska and Englert have very little sympathy for the tribulations of these characters who live in an affluent commune walled off from the rest of society. This is illustrated by the film’s extremely dry humour, which often mocks Zhenia’s clients’ complete lack of self-awareness of their own privilege. “My son is very independent,” one mother says. “He orders UberEats all by himself.” But if we’re not supposed to take their concealed anxieties seriously, why do we spend so much time hearing them? By the second half, the jokes have worn fairly flat.
Overall, Never Gonna Snow Again is clearly referring to a wealth of historical, cultural history, but because it’s a taxing watch trying to decode the abstract visuals and dialogue, it never feels like it’s making more than a hint. It’s frustrating trying to fully connect to the story and understand the subtext, especially when the film tries to make itself as inaccessible as possible. You’re likely to be left not wanting to bother.