An enigmatic man from the East arrives in a drab, anonymous Eastern European city one foggy morning, bearing little more than a massage bed. As he earns the confidence of the residents of an exclusive gated community, he becomes equal parts confessor and healer, his Russian accent carrying hints of a longed-for past, his therapy offering the promise of a salve for more than just their aching bodies.
“Never Gonna Snow Again” stars Alec Utgoff (“Stranger Things”) as Zhenia, the mysterious masseur at the center of the latest feature from two-time Berlinale Silver Bear winner Malgorzata Szumowska (“Body,” “Mug”), who co-wrote and co-directed with cinematographer Michał Englert, making his directorial debut.
The film, which world premiered in competition at the Venice Film Festival, screens at El Gouna Film Festival in Egypt on Saturday. It is produced by Poland’s Lava Films and Germany’s Match Factory Productions, in co-production with Poland’s Mazovia Film Fund, Kino Świat, and DI-Factory, and Germany’s Bayerischer Rundfunk. The Match Factory is handling world sales.
“Never Gonna Snow Again” partly draws on the filmmakers’ experiences of growing up in a communist Poland that suddenly, jarringly, rushed head-long toward capitalism in the 1990s. (The character of Zhenia was inspired by a masseur the duo share with Oscar-winning director Paweł Pawlikowski.)
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The garish, gated community in which most of the film is set is emblematic of a particularly Polish malaise, said the directors, the consequence of a generation of nouveau riche raised under the privations of communism now clinging desperately to the signifiers of their newfound wealth. “They don’t want to feel connected to the past, because they are so deeply inspired by and focused on the West,” said Englert.
“By capitalism,” said Szumowska.
“By this consumption,” Englert added.
The dizzying growth of the 1990s, in which Szumowska said many Poles were “getting rich so fast and in unexpected ways,” didn’t come without a cost. “We couldn’t create any balance,” she said. “Also we lost our traditions.” That feeling of loss permeates “Never Gonna Snow Again,” whose characters—for all their material comfort—grapple with an existential emptiness that isn’t as easily filled as their lavish homes.
It is into that void that Zhenia, the unexpected healer, steps. “This lack of spiritual and deep meaning in life is something that is very intimate,” said Englert. “Zhenia reminds them that something like this exists.”
It’s no coincidence that a character tasked with soothing the body’s aches and pains should offer a path toward spiritual salvation for Szumowska, whose self-described “obsession” with the relationship between body and soul was mined to darkly comic effect in “Body,” which centered on the story of a widowed coroner who sends his anorexic daughter to a therapist after her mother’s death.
“We need to control our body,” she said. “It’s about controlling our body, and then, through this control, we are trying to control the mind.” It’s in this way, she said, that we’re able to reckon with the ever-present specter of death in our lives.
The film’s title is in part a meditation on that theme, evoking at times what the director described as the “fierce, all-consuming and dangerous” snowstorms that can obliterate and destroy, while also hinting at the human-led catastrophe of climate change, and a planet in terminal decline.
But that snow can also evoke a sense of safety and comfort, she added, like a child’s security blanket. While the characters in “Never Gonna Snow Again” have thrown themselves into the capitalist rat race, with its relentless insistence on competition, achievement, and material gain, there is nevertheless something comforting about the memories of their shared communist past, said Szumowska. “It was a safe world.”
The director, who made her English-language debut last year with the Toronto premiere “The Other Lamb,” is prepping a female-led feature about which she’s reluctant to share details. But she said she’s eager to work on more projects with strong female leads. “I would love to work with an amazing actress, English-speaking, of a certain age, on an amazing script,” she said. “That’s kind of [what] I’m dreaming of.”