Polish director duo Małgorzata Szumowska and Michał Englert helm a supernatural tale about a gifted masseur visiting the rich
On a bourgeois estate in Poland filled with mansions that are impossible to tell apart, a masseur goes from house to house, visiting his clientele. Rich, but all unhappy in their own ways – disillusioned with life, sexually frustrated, jealous, terminally ill. To each of them, this young man is a balm. He heals them physically, but also mentally. He listens. He passes no judgement. But still, polite and friendly as they might be, they look down on him as something less. His name is Zhenia (Alec Utgoff), and he's from the Ukraine.
Małgorzata Szumowska and Michał Englert are the Polish filmmaking duo behind Never Gonna Snow Again, a uniquely strange satire that starts out as something of a black comedy about the selfishness of the upper class before slowly taking on the air of a gripping, supernatural drama (whether the film's magical aspect is real or imaginary seems to lie with the viewer's interpretation).
The film unravels as a series of comically-rich vignettes, set in the weeks leading up to Christmas, where the threat of snow lingers but never quite breaks through. Zhenia's clients – among them, an alcoholic, a widow, an adulterer – feel like they can confide in him about anything, and are even prone to jealously when he leaves for his next appointment. In a way, Zhenia, with his healing hands, cuts a Christ-like figure. Maybe they'd notice there was more to him if they weren't so caught up in themselves.
Flashbacks suggest that, in fact, Zhenia might have a more interesting backstory than he’s letting on. One scene seems to evoke the telekinetic ending of Tarkovsky's Stalker; Zhenia was born in Pripyat, exactly seven years after the Chernobyl incident. Is he gifted? Or is the mere suggestion of his ability acting as a placebo for his clients, resulting in the same desired effects? He seems able to access their deepest darkest thoughts, which manifest as surreal dream sequences that the directors leave open to interpretation – just like the themes of class and climate change the film touches on with light hands.
A masseur, but also a beautiful dancer, a talented pianist: the film relies on the idea that Zhenia is entrancing, and Utgoff's perfectly pitched performance holds it all together, inflicting the movie with its deeply strange mood. “I feel weird around you,” one client tells him. The film casts the same hypnotic spell. Then it's over, and it's too late, and we feel Zhenia's absence from our lives just like his clientele. What will they – what will we – do now?
Never Gonna Snow Again is now showing in UK cinemas.Where to watch