Directed By: Bille August
Screenplay By: Ann Biderman
Based upon the novel Smilla's Feeling for Snow by Peter Høeg
Produced By: Bernd Eichinger, Martin Moszkowicz
Cast: Julia Ormond, Gabriel Byrne, Tom Wilkinson, Robert Loggia
MPAA Rating: R
Runtime: 121 minutes
Review Date: December 3, 2010
Smilla’s Sense of Snow is based on Peter Høeg’s bestselling novel entitled Smilla’s Feeling for Snow. Although the novel fared far better than the film (which financially bombed), both have absolutely terrible titles. The film, at its core, is an adult-oriented thriller infused with a bitter and rapturous atmosphere. Before I started the film, I was sure I was going to watch a sappy love film starring Christina Applegate. Fortunately, that wasn’t the case, as Sense of Snow does host a fantastic atmosphere hindered only by its increasingly absurd plotting. So absurd, in fact, that the film comes to an obliterating crash in the final act.
The film starts out promisingly enough: Gorgeous landscape photography of ancient Greenland paired with a reliably fantastic score by Harry-Gregson Williams and Hans Zimmer (in my opinion, some of the best composers working today). An Inuit man is fishing for seals and, in the near distance, a meteorite crashes down enveloping him and his dogs in frigid waters. The film then abruptly cuts to present day where we find Smilla (Julia Ormond) at the scene of a terrible accident. One of the residents in her building has perished, a young Inuit boy to whom she was fondly attached. How are these two things related, and can Smilla be so sure that this was an accident?
She’s convinced what happened wasn’t an accident, so she takes it upon herself to investigate. She is a cerebral, dry, and distant woman, so wrapped in her scientific work that she has little relationship with anyone beyond her recently deceased friend. At her aid is the soft-spoken, off-putting “Mechanic” (Gabriel Byrne) who shares the same sentiments. She starts her investigation at the morgue where the young boy is housed, garnering the interest of some shady fellows.
Tork (Richard Harris in top form) recruits men to prevent her from her investigating, frightened that she will unearth what is really beneath all of this foul play. What she eventually finds is really quite silly, but this is more of a film about mood and atmosphere, which director Bille August strikes brilliantly. The sparse, driving score perfectly compliments the blue and shadowy environments Smilla visits. They not only clarify Smilla’s sense of isolation along her journey, but also the impending doom that potentially awaits her at the end of her trail.
Robert Loggia and Tom Wilkinson make small cameos in this film, but are fantastic in their turns. Additionally, Julia Ormond is great as Smilla, perfectly capturing the character’s adamant drive and steely demeanor. This is quite different from what Julia Ormond usually plays, and it works to great effect.
If you can put aside the preposterous plot and instead enjoy the images and sounds as they dance amongst one another, you are sure to enjoy this film.
Kyle Kogan is a film critic living in Chicago.