Sunday 3 February 2019

Smilla's Sense of Snow

This English-language Danish 1997 Bille August film is a sci-fi thriller/drama, based on Peter Hoeg's bestseller about a woman trying to get to the bottom of the suspicious death of a small boy whom she'd befriended in her apartment block in Copenhagen.

The troubled Smilla Jasperson is played by Julia Ormond (Legends of the Fall, First Knight) and she does so excellently, convincingly and with style. Smilla is one of a community of people who have ended up in Copenhagen and since as a child being removed from her home in Greenland, has been a square peg in a round hole. Always in trouble, not settled and pining for a climate where snow and ice envelops her. She can't do much about it though as rich daddy keeps her from having to work and with no means of her own, has to stay put.

Other exiles live in the same apartment block, one of which is a small boy who she comes home one day to find scattered over the pavement, 5 stories down. As so the thriller starts to unfold. The links between these people start to become clearer, what happened in Greenland so that they had to leave, how a mining company with pots of cash seem to have secrets and potentially reasons for covering up this, that and the other, a love-interest who lives on the ground floor and may be a little more than he appears and treks across snowy arctic regions to get to the bottom of what's going on! Yes, it's thrills and spills all the way, with a climax which James Bond would be proud of creating! But it's far from a mindless 007 outing. It's a good story, well delivered, with interesting characters and a plot that will keep the audience on the edge of their seat for at least some of the time.

Richard Harris (A Man Called Horse, Orca, Unforgiven) plays the boss of the mining company, mostly from a distance. He only has a handful of lines, but as usual, brings presence and class to proceedings. Gabriel Byrne (The Usual Suspects, The Crying Game, Stigmata) is the love interest with a twist and plays his role well, though you get the feeling that it's not really stretching him much. It's Ormond in the lead who really commands here and has by far the most of the screen time. She holds it together and depicts well the character that nobody wants to warm to, but most would respect.

The film is shot in 4:3 which is a bit of a shame on this occasion as so much more could have been made of the sweeping arctic scenery in the second half of the film. Instead of which, the edit is tight and focused. It's a good film which I'd recommend if you can get hold of it! I had to import a DVD from the Czech Republic and it took 3 weeks to arrive! It's a cracking little film which you'll sometimes catch in the middle of the night on Channel 4 or Film4. Look out for it.

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