Snow

October, 2009, Drama

 

 

This first film by writer/director Aida Begic garnered the grand prize during Critic’s Week at Cannes last year and had its American premier at Aspen’s Filmfest last week. It’s a heartfelt examination of the aftermath of the Bosnia-Serbian war in which inter-religious clashes devastated what the world once knew as Yugoslavia. Shot on a modest budget with a host of actors unknown to U.S. audiences, this quietly stunning examination of war’s impact on the women and children “left behind” examines the struggles they encounter in striving to make a life for themselves in a small village decimated by the loss of its male inhabitants.  

 

Snow’s action takes place within the confines of a small mountain community in rural Herzegovina where the conflict has reduced the population to widows, young girls and a crippled Muslim cleric who protects the town’s only remaining young boy who’s so shocked by what he’s seen that he’s been rendered mute. The village is blessed with access to abundant fruit trees which the women turn into various jams and jellies in the hope of pulling themselves out of subsistence-level poverty. Many know their sons and husbands are dead; others fear their loved ones are wandering aimlessly somewhere in Europe or have decamped for a better life in England or the U.S. Destitution ignores class distinction; everyone longs for the comforts of the past as well as the return of those who’ll never come down the road leading home.

 

The grim but practical need for solidarity in the face of economic privation is put to the test when two real estate speculators show up with an offer to buy out each individual homeowner - - an offer valid only if everyone accepts it. Some of the widows desperately want to sell and continue their lives elsewhere, but those who wish to remain argue, with brutal logic, that the amounts being offered won’t permit anyone the option of a real alternative to simply staying put.

 

The generally excellent cast offers a cross section of war’s survivors; an aging dowager who carps incessantly at her young, widowed daughter-in-law, the chain-smoking wife of a long-absent husband who longs for a return to the affluence of their pre-war life, youngsters teetering precariously on the brink of adolescence burdened with memories so vivid and vile they mock efforts to dispel them, a slatternly “chic” woman living under the delusion that her boyfriend will be coming home shortly - - all of them waiting for an end to the waking nightmare which their lives have become.

 

The storyline is unflinching but not despairing; the director loves and respects these hardy peasant women and while she carefully probes their phobias and weaknesses, she’s emphatically supportive of their stubborn drive to get on with the process of living their lives. If the plot’s resolution takes a flight of mawkish fantasy. the script’s hard-edged candor up to that point makes the film worthwhile – what comes before Snow’s mystical climax offers a bracing corrective to the notion that, in war’s aftermath, loss ebbs and wounds heal quickly.

 

Relying on spare dialogue and the nuanced performances of her cast, Begic matches this depiction of Spartan existence with a similar restraint in the movie’s technical aspects. But the austere look and feel of this heartfelt film perfectly matches the mood of its impoverished, grieving but always resilient women. A microcosm of but one country’s experiences in war it may be, but Snow’s implications are universal.

 

The Verdict? A first-rate “art” film in the best sense of that tradition. 

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