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Snow: Film aims for neo-realism but ends up simply super-literal

A scene from "Snow"

2 out of 4 stars


A young woman from Sri Lanka comes to Canada after her family is killed by the Asian tsunami. The isolation in cold, grey Canada is hell. The distant relatives she moves in with are strangers, and she's trapped under the family patriarch's traditionalist, overbearing ways. She finds work as a hotel maid, but the drudgery limits her to two facial expressions: sad and sadder.

The film continues along that vein.

Where Snow tries for hard realism, it's gives super-literalism. The collision of Sri Lankan and Canadian cultures is fertile, important ground to explore. Cultural identity is of course a paramount issue for new Canadians and one that should be given much more attention by filmmakers.

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Yet Snow shows us the loneliness of her surroundings, the mysterious and troubled hotel guest who draws her attention, the strange incidents in his hotel room all at face value. The conditions and sadness she faces are simply there.

Snow keeps good company in this approach. Steve McQueen's Shame depicted sex addiction with a similar, brute bluntness. Literalness is in the air. The trouble is, it's based more on a character's (or director's) preoccupations about reality, rather than our shared view. The real world we share is all contradiction, grey area and humour. The woman's fellow chamber maid at the hotel: Man, she's unnaturally bubbly. The woman's nerdy, South Asian suitor: Is he totally incapable of blinking in her company? Shouldn't the Sri Lankan woman feel anything toward these odd characters?

Even in the hardest neo-realism, there is still some pressure release, something unexpected in every occurrence. In Snow, however, a teenage party that the woman's younger cousin oddly takes her to is inevitably just a stock scene, a teen party fueled by drink and drugs. The film depends more on the shadowy, colour-drenched photography to touch on emotions or humanism. It's not enough.

In neo-realist cinema, the actors typically play characters reacting to real-seeming settings. In this super-literalism, the actors play characters playing characters. They are so caught up in themselves and their limitations that they, ironically, seem to hardly notice the world around them.


  • Directed and written by Rohan Fernando
  • Starring Kalista Zackhariyas
  • Classification: 14A
  • 2 stars

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About the Author

Guy Dixon is a feature writer for The Globe and Mail. More

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