Arts Festival

Who is Zhenia? What is he?

AILING husband, luscious wife. Alec Utgoff is the masseur, Zhenia, in Michal Englert and Malgorzata Szumowska’s film ‘Never Gonna Snow Again’, on the European Film Festival South Africa, until 24 October. © Photogrpah by Jaroslaw Sosinski / LAVA FILM.

YOU MAY BE forgiven for thinking you’ve keyed into a Neil Gaiman novel in the first few minutes of Malgorzata Szumowska and Michal Englert’s film Never Gonna Snow Again. Featuring Alec Utgoff as a young Russian with many unusual skills, the opening scene in this mysterious but beautiful work seems that he has supernatural talents and can cast a stranger into another dimension with his touch alone. It is available online and without cost, as part of the 8th European Film Festival South Africa, which runs from 14 until 24 October 2021. Bookings are open.

The further you get into the work, however, the less it develops with a narrative that you can hold onto, and rather with a whole bunch of curious cameos, some surprising balletic nuances, English bulldogs and magical acts tossed into the mix, the story is about a masseur called Zhenia. He lives in the city, seemingly illegally, and commutes with his massage bed on his back each day to an environment that evokes the kind of colour-by-number plotted suburbia central to Tim Burton’s 1990s film Edward Scissorhands. It is here that this young man who spent the first seven years of his life living in Chernobyl, gets to relieve the obscenely wealthy of their problems – be they of a physical, emotional or spiritual variety.

He’s a man of many talents, it seems, and knows how to touch the sacred chords of each of his clients. But is he real? Is he radioactive? Are his powers mystical? What does he do in his spare time? There’s a strange nuance in the plot which takes even his partner in ‘crime’ by surprise. Characterised by bold – almost callous – lines in its cast and the way in which the different personalities tell their stories with gesture and specificity, the work teeters on the witty, but it feels as though the concept underpinning this film is premised on a Polish idiom that remains vaguely inaccessible to the English-speaking reader of the subtitles of this work.

You remain caught in this work with its multiple red herrings and polished sheen. Is it a profound essay on the nature of life and death? Is it a sociological foray into the complexities and unhappinesses of the super rich of Poland? Is it about anti-Russian bias and a comment on how people who drink too much alcohol and take too little care of other things, like their own children? Or is it a self-indulgent bit of clap-trap with a lot of pretty cinematographic and casting decisions based on performers’ looks over their skills? This film is most definitely not the pick of the festival, and the mystique of its trailer is more potent than the full product.

Never Gonna Snow Again is directed by Malgorzata Szumowska and Michal Englert and is performed by a cast headed by Zbigniew Biel, Blanka Burzynska, Andrzej Chyra, Krzysztof Czeczot, Ewa Dalkowska, Maciej Drosio, Stanislav Dyachenko, Sebastian Dziubiel, Katarzyna Figura, Julia Frey, Roman Gancarczyk, Wiktoria Gorodecka, Eray Gülay, Miroslaw Haniszewski, Huynh Thi Tam Hien, Michal Holub, Ewa Kolasinska, Agata Kulesza, Olaf Marchwicki, Jaroslaw Milner, Astrid Nanowska, Jerzy Nasierowski, Maja Ostaszewska, Andrzej Pankowski, Casper Richard Petersen, Adrian Podlaski, Weronika Rosati, Jasper Schwering, Maria Seweryn, Lukasz Simlat, Konstantin Solowiow, Lucia Stachowczyk, Wojciech Starostecki, Alec Utgoff, Lena Wochal, Halina Wójcik, Michal Wolczyk, Mariusz Zaniewski. Written by Michal Englert and Malgorzata Szumowska, it is produced by Michal Englert, Viola Fügen, Malgorzata Szumowska, Agnieszka Wasiak, Michael Weber and Marius Wlodarski and features creative input by Michal Englert (cinematography), Agata Cierniak and Jaroslaw Kaminski (editing), Magdalena Szwarcbart (casting), Jagna Janicka (production design) and Katarzyna Lewinska (costumes). In French, Vietnamese, Polish and Russian with English sub-titles, it is part of the 8th European Film Festival South Africa, screening online and without cost until 24 October 2021. Bookings are now open.

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