Reviewed by

Christopher Armstead

Just the other day I was wondering during my review of the Canadian film ‘A Simple Curve’ who exactly goes to see these little quiet independent character studies, and why do they get made, and how do they get funded in the first place.  This is not a comment on ‘A Simple Curve’ as I thought it was a very good film, but nonetheless there doesn’t seem to be much of an audience for these kinds of quiet, well done, out of the way films.  But yet here are with another one in director Marc Evans small, quiet, out of the way independent Canadian film ‘Snow Cake’.  Which again, is a finely crafted, well written, beautifully shot film that I’m guessing that next to nobody is going to see.  Except maybe Canadians.  That must be it.  I mean, Atom Egoyan is like the biggest Canadian Director ever, and this is pretty much the kind of film that dude specializes in so these films are made for the natives.  I can dig that.

‘Snow Cake’ also has bigger stars than ‘A Simple Curve’ did as we meet Englishman Alex Hughes (Alan Rickman) on a plane back from some unknown destination looking at one of thodse photo booth pictures of a young man.  When we next see Alex, he is in a diner and is accosted by a bubbly young woman by the name of Vivienne (Emily Hampshire) who through the sheer force of her charming nature convinces the reticent Englishman to give her a ride at least part of way to her home town.  Along their way, the two strike up a fast friendship, with Vivienne bringing Alex out of his shell, with Alex even informing Vivienne that he is returning home from a prison sentence resulting from him killing some dude.  This doesn’t seem to phase the unflappable 19-year old who continues to prattle away.  Then tragedy strikes.  Here’s where I’m torn in describing the film.  Even though the fact that Vivienne dies in a car accident while Alex is driving is pretty much in every synopsis of this film, I hadn’t read a synopsis of ‘Snow Cake’ as yet and was totally

stunned when the accident happened, and Vivienne was pronounced dead.  Not having this information, and considering what a wonderful character that actress Emily Hampshire had created in such a short time, had a profound effect on how continued to watch this film.  Had I known that Vivienne was about to die, I would have been waiting for it to happen and I honestly believe the movie as a whole would have had less impact.

Anyway, Alex, completely riddled with guilt, goes to see Vivienne’s mother, Linda (Sigourney Weaver) who happens to be mildly autistic.  Linda comprehends that her daughter is dead, but is incapable of grieving, since in her view dead is dead.  But Linda does take to Alex and convinces him to at least stay the week, until trash day, since she can’t touch garbage and since it WAS Vivienne’s job to take out the trash and since Alex kind of killed her, what’s he gonna do?  Now Alex finds himself caught up in this little sleepy Canadian town, with a woman whose autism manifests itself in massive obsessive compulsion.  He also makes the fancy of Linda’s sexy neighbor Maggie (Carrie Anne-Moss) who is the neighborhood prostitute, at least according to Linda. 

Like most of these films, it is not a plot driven narrative.  This is a character driven narrative, pure and simple, and that being the case the characters driving the narrative had better be damn good.  I’ll have you know they are better than good, but great.  We know sometimes we run into trouble when Hollywood actors try and get retarded on us, but to Sigourney Weaver’s credit, and a testament to her skill and experience as an actress, the autistic Linda never becomes a caricature.  Her performance is consistent throughout, funny, touching, sincere, and tragic quite honestly.  We grieve for her inability to grieve for her wonderful daughter, and through her we cherish the fact that we can feel, be it pain or joy, as to live without it, no matter how rotten it may feel at times, would be intolerable.  Alan Rickman portrays the tortured Alex with skill and tenderness as this is a man who is obviously living in constant pain.  At times, he seems to envy Linda’s ability not to feel, and at times, he’s as sad for her as we are.  An outstanding, understated performance from a seasoned film veteran.  Emily Hampshire though, despite the fact she had all of three minutes of screen time, makes the whole thing work.  The character that she was able to create in such a short time and the lasting effect she had on the picture as a whole was simply amazing to me.  By the time we get to her funeral, you feel as if you’ve actually lost something too, and she was able to create this lasting presence in the absolute minimum of time allowed. 

Smartly directed by Marc Evans from a very moving script by first timer Angela Pell, and wonderfully framed by cinematographer Steve Cosens, ‘Snow Cake’ is one the best movies I’ve seen in some time.  Freakin’ Canadians dude.  I guess this what they do up there.  Somebody introduce those cats to a car chase.

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