Smilla’s Sense of Snow (1997) [CORRECTED] March 30, 2005Posted by Dragan Antulov in Film Reviews.
Tags: Bille August, Gabriel Byrne, Julia Ormond, Peter Hoeg
A Film Review
Copyright Dragan Antulov 2005
Compared with the rest of Europe, Denmark looks like small country. But this perception changes if Danish self-governed territory of Greenland, which happens to be the world’s biggest island, is taken into account. Few people are, however, aware of that because Greenland – with 81% of its surface being covered by ice – is also one of the least hospitable and least populated places on Earth. And, like many of those utterly inhospitable places, Greenland is incredibly beautiful, which might be seen in the very opening of SMILLA’S SENSE OF SNOW, 1997 Danish suspense thriller directed by Bille August.
The film, based on the best-selling novel by Peter Hoeg, begins in 1859 when a huge meteorite suddenly hits Greenland. This catastrophic event, witnessed by its only victim – a lonely Inuit fishermen – remains out of history books until present day when the protagonist, tough-minded mathematician Smilla Jaspersen (played by Julia Ormond), would have to deal with some of its long-term consequences. Smilla, daughter of physician Moritz Jaspersen (played by Robert Loggia) and Inuit mother, was born in Greenland and spent first six years of life there. Despite being brought to Copenhagen after mother’s death, she never really adapted to urban way of life and now lives as a moody recluse, dedicated to mathematics and study of snow and ice. The only person with whom she connects is Isaiah Christensen (played by Clipper Miano), deaf Inuit child. When child dies falling from the roof of the building, Smilla sees some suspicious details and tries to warn authorities of a possible foul play. Her efforts are greeted by “friendly” suggestions that she should forget about whole affair. Smilla nevertheless continues with her investigation and discovers that boy’s father – who had been working for Greenland Mining Company – also died in mysterious circumstances. The only person willing to help Smilla in her quest of justice is a mysterious neighbour (played by Gabriel Byrne) who wants to have sex with her.
SMILLA’S SENSE OF SNOW is visually stunning film. Jörgen Persson’s cinematography has captured beauty of Greenland’s icy landscapes and made sharp contrast with dark, depressive and claustrophobic surroundings of Copenhagen. Beauty of landscapes is well-matched with the beauty of film’s heroine. Julia Ormond, British actress whose career choices weren’t always fortunate, probably never played such a strong and impressive character. Unfortunately, Danish director Bille August, who had been forced to use British cast and have English dialogues for commercial reasons, wasn’t that lucky with the rest of the cast. Gabriel Byrne is very bland in his role and has little chemistry with protagonist. However, that doesn’t prevent August from maintaining high level of suspense and convincing audience that they are watching something extraordinary.
Unfortunately, in last thirty minutes of the film it becomes evident that SMILLA’S SENSE OF SNOW is triumph of style over substance. What began as atmospheric and engrossing thriller with some political overtones thrown for good measure, suddenly begins to drown in cheap B-movie clichés, transforming into unconvincing combination of science fiction and action genre.
However, despite the disappointing ending, SMILLA’S SENSE OF SNOW is a satisfying movie experience. Good cinematography, very good acting, unusual settings and characters are reasons why should unoriginality of the plot should be forgiven. And, despite all of its shortcomings, this film was also very influential, at least judging by better known and vastly inferior movie version of THE X-FILES, inspired by its atmosphere and imagery.
RATING: 6/10 (++)