As beautiful and evocative as a poem, Jan Troell’s “As White as in Snow” is an intriguing story of a young woman’s quest to achieve a dream she’s told is impossible. Lavish period drama based on the real-life story of Sweden’s first aviatrix should prove a draw in arthouse situations and attract those who yearn to see a movie in a style now dubbed “old-fashioned.” However, its considerable length could prove a box office hindrance.
Pic, whose title comes from an old song, tells the fate of Elsa Andersson (Amanda Ooms), born in the south of Sweden early last century. Her father (Bjorn Granath) is a wealthy farmer; her mother dies early, and a new woman (Stina Ekblad) moves into the house. Convention dictates that Elsa should marry a local ladand settle down as a farmer’s wife. She, however, wants to spread her wings and literally fly, and at age 21 applies to join a new school for aviators in nearby Ljungbyhed. Elsa falls for one of the other students, Erik Magnusson (Bjorn Kjellman). Pic’s funniest scene is when the two naked lovers have a passionate rendezvous by the sea, and are surprised by a group of equally naked soldiers on horses.
When Erik dies in an accident, Elsa loses her will to fly but still feels she must get her pilot’s license. After traveling to Berlin with a companion and having a brief sexual encounter with another woman, she becomes interested in parachuting. Based on a few existing pictures of Andersson, and what has been written about her, Troell has turned her life into something unquestionably his own — a story of longing, of not doing what is expected of you, and of taking risks . Andersson’s story is as relevant today as it was at the time.
Again functioning as his own d.p., Troell fashions the movie in a slow and meticulously crafted way, flying in the face of Dogme-like trends.
Where other directors would rush to the next episode, Troell takes time out to let his camera linger on a butterfly or a leaf before moving on. This gives the film a rhythm of its own which slowly but surely sucks the viewer in.
Despite this, pic is still over-long at two and a half hours. Prime candidates for snipping are some of the Berlin scenes.
Ooms, who’s mostly made obscure Scandi films, as well as taking parts in a couple of British movies, is a miracle in the part of Elsa. Present in almost every scene, she makes the young woman someone the viewer both likes and suffers with. Ooms almost completely overshadows the other thesps, though both Granath and Kjellman deserve nods as her father and her lover.