Sep

5

 There is an old German phrase: Mann tracht; Gott lacht.

Roughly translated, it means Man proposes; G-d disposes.

This gritty, arresting mise en scene in the deep Carpathian woods in a wintry mid-Europe shifts from bardeau to bardeau. It starts as an actioner, shifts to a quirky comedy between the two dumbkopf hired killers, cycles to a torture spectacle, finally to an opera buffa of crescendo'ing blood and unexpected peripety (as the Greeks used to call it).

Two men, Walter and Micky–one of whom has erred in a simple rubout–are hired for what they are told will be essentially a walk in the woods kill gig deal. Plus they can, they are told, build snowmen. Hike. No real details, but their comfort with guns and silencers will be, they think, put to easy and uncomplicated use. It does not work out that way. They encounter the unaccountably out of place and sexy girlfriend, Sybelle, of tough-guy entrepreneur Berger, their employer. They are not good handling the days of waiting, enticed by alcohol, deep woods, the no-tell-hotel, and drugs, vistas of drugs. It takes days before they even learn what it is they are expected to do. Events before, and after, do not go smoothly. Sybelle is not what they had anticipated.

The gorgeous stenography of trees and snow, stark photography of pristine pines amid depths of snow, an exquisite ice-storm weighting down the branches of thousands of trees, a lonely hotel in the midst of nowhere, makes this an eerie metaphor for man against enemy nature, as well as man against man.

The protagonist we are first sickened by becomes the one we soon identify with. The goofball assassin partner, impressionable skinny Micky, we first like, we soon turn against. The implacable rich man experiences his comedown–and the hired gorilla-body man tries to out-think his boss in a fizzled-out mutiny.

It may start out a genre film, but swiftly transcends itself into a complex examination of turn and turnabout, resistance, keeping one's counsel in extremis, and the quirky results of not over-reaching, over-acting, or over-thinking one's predicament…

… But getting the hell out of the way of those even more bloodthirsty and disordered than one started out. A spare but provocative rumination for the un-faint-hearted.

Made in 2010, SNOWMAN has been on the shelf for two years. We can hear from the dialogue all the impacts US slang and culture has on German patois and issues. The music, often at amusing variance with the onscreen bloodletting, is in English sometimes, as well as in German. There is a contrapuntal lightheartedness in the early narrative voiceover. Mid-film descriptions, diagrams and explanatory freeze-frames add to the sang-froid, as it were, if not the seriousness of the proceedings.

In German, English subtitles.


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