The filmmakers behind Poland’s official entry in the international feature film Oscar race, “Never Gonna Snow Again,” say they will be following in the footsteps of Polish winners and nominees like Paweł Pawlikowski (“Cold War,” “Ida”) and Jan Komasa (“Corpus Christi”). Academy voters watching their international film screeners at home should have plenty of time to catch the film before it’s released by Kino Lorber in the spring.
Malgorzata Szumowska (“Body”) co-wrote and co-directed with cinematographer Michał Englert, who makes his directorial debut. The story follows Alec Utgoff as Zhenia, a guru-like masseur who travels within an affluent neighborhood and meets clients, who open up to him about their lives. Englert uses wide framing as Zhenia makes his rounds, often appearing seemingly out of nowhere. “He is mysterious and had an air of secrecy to him,” Englert says. The inspiration, Szumowska notes, was a real-life masseur who wandered from house to house with a folding massage table.
Production designer Jagna Janicka found a gated community for the unnamed neighborhood, and made each home a reflection of its residents, from the paintings on the walls to the music they listened to. “Everything you see was designed to be about instinct and emotion,” Englert says. “Jagna discovered this strange and interesting part of Warsaw that was just on the outskirts.”
Initially, it wasn’t easy to shoot on location since residents weren’t open to the filmmakers. Englert reveals that at one point producer Viola Fügen even posed as a homebuyer to gain access. But, Englert admits, “we felt like liars, so we told them the truth, and we ended up gaining access.”
Janicka and costume designer Katarzyna Lewinska referenced nearby examples for the characters’ ensembles. “Some were based on people we know,” Englert says. Szumowska adds that she lent her own styles to two characters.
Since Zhenia’s point of view is on society itself, Englert aimed to capture the character in reflective shots, whether through a window or his own image in a mirror. Englert used Arri DNA 65 lenses to establish a wide frame and capture the subtle elements within it. “Very often, we told stories through the props and set design,” he says. That meant capturing shots of food, furniture or, perhaps, flowers; every element was designed to reflect the isolation of the people who would live in a gated community in Poland.
“There are a lot of stories buried in the periphery of the frame,” Englert says. “You focus on the composition and steal attention from the actors while revealing what’s surrounding them.”
Ultimately, the idea was to leave viewers free to decipher whatever they saw. “The film has so many different meanings, and each one is going to be different for each person,” Englert says. “It’s risky, but that’s the joy of cinema.”