The Snows of Kilimanjaro

October, 2012, Drama


 Good intentions don’t always a riveting drama make; this French sociopolitical statement from writer/director Robert Guédiguian marks his 17th project behind the camera and the result is an uneven blend of left-wing economics, idyllic images of the Gallic working class and often quite affective challenges to the societal assumptions of the 1st world. Only intermittently compelling, Snows nevertheless shines in those sequences which frame hard questions the director obviously wants his audiences to answer.

 The distinguished French character actor Jean-Pierre Derrousin (Le Havre) plays Michel, the long-time shop steward of Marseille’s dockworker’s union. Forced to downsize, the union elects to manage that process by drawing lots to see who will be laid off and Michel thus finds himself out of work. But his years of thrift, steady work and the generous fringe benefits that his union has won for its members are more than sufficient to allow his gentle glide into comfortable, if forced, early retirement. Michel’s three children & co-workers throw a party for him and his wife Marie-Clare, providing them a paid vacation to Africa so they can visit that continent’s most famous mountain.

 Before they can embark on their trip however, two armed robbers break into the couple’s apartment, tie them up and steal their plane tickets, cash and other valuables, injuring Michel in the process. But when the chance sighting of an object stolen from him allows Michel to have the police arrest one of the culprits, he’s dismayed to learn that at least one of the thugs is none other than a fellow laid-off dockworker. When Michel confronts his assailant expecting an apology, he receives instead a sarcastic rebuke for the manner in which Michael and other union officials have conducted negotiations with ship-owners, favoring sonority over the needs of younger union members struggling to raise their families.

 Stung by this harsh assessment of his role in the union’s management, Michael and his wife decide to involve themselves in the lives of the assailant’s family members now left without someone to support them.

 All this would have been far more impactful if the principal characters had been developed with more balance; as they emerge here, Michel and Marie-Claire could qualify for living sainthood and despite some minor blemishes, his co-workers personify the type of blue-collar working hero epitomized by those awful Russian and Chinese propaganda films produced during the era of Stalin and Mao. That said, the tough issue of equitable treatment for workers in periods of economic slowdown gets honest treatment here, (once the viewer gets over the far-left political position that management is the real villain for triggering the layoffs in the first place.)  And there are a few bits of acidic social commentary that emerge as well, especially from the mouth of the mother of Michel’s assailant, who defends the abandonment of her children with a chilling monologue about the impossible challenges facing young mother deserted by the men who impregnated and left them without financially providing for their offspring.

 In the end, Snows emerges as an overly-rosy examination of working class life that would have benefited from less preaching and more candor about the lives of its characters. And that’s a pity, because the issues raised here, combined with the talents of this cast, could have made Snows a riveting contribution to the economic issues confronting every 1st world country today.

 The Verdict? Well intentioned social realism uneasily combined with left wing polemics.



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