Tuesday, 31 October 2006

Snow Cake (2006)

And then, she pulled out the flamethrower...

The road movie has a lesser-known kissing cousin called the pit-stop movie. Like the road movie, the pit-stop movie is never about the destination, but on the internal process of self-discovery while on the journey. In the case of the pit-stop movie, the main action (internal and external) takes place in just one waystation, which is what happens in Snow Cake, a tale about Alex (Alan Rickman), an English ex-convict on a long cross-country journey to a new life and a rendezvous in a Canadian city. The proverbial wandering soul picks up Maggie, a spirited and charming passenger (Carrie-Anne Moss) at a pitstop, and following one of the most basic plot types, the passenger is killed in the accident while Alex emerges injury-free but guilt-ridden, and decides to stop over to visit the girl’s mother in the town of Wawa. Of course, the mother Linda (Signourney Weaver) turns out to be an autistic woman, and Alex turns out to be the only person she’d allow to take care of her for the week before her relatives arrive in Wawa. You should expect this movie to be a bittersweet melodrama and a tearjerker.

Except it isn’t. Angella Pell has the wisdom and artistry not to serve us a warm-over Hallmark weepie (see Weaver’s previous effort in A Map of the World) revolving around the well-worn themes of forgivenes and redemption. That would be a little too smug, self-serving, and artistically unadventurous. Pell’s script invites audiences to discover and accept Linda and Alex for the type of people they are, just as how Linda and Alex learn to see past stereotypes to come to some sorts of understaning and comfortable acceptance of each other. After all, it isn’t easy to speak to someone who looks like the saddest man on earth, a silent man who croaks like a morose frog if and when he speaks. And it isn’t easy to want to understand a weird little lady like Linda, who eats snow from her backyard and tends to talk the ears off anyone unfortunate enough not to be disliked by her.

And as the guilt-ridden Alex takes it upon himself to organise the funeral for Maggie (it takes effort to get to know a dead person well enough to give them a sending off they would’ve wanted) , Pell and Marc Evans use this as an opportunity to peek into the townsfolk, and to examine the enemy of honest discovery and acceptance - well-intentioned, knee-jerk politeness bordering on civil pretense!

Snow Cake may be a small movie, but it has several things going for it: the captivating performance of Signourney Weaver, who plays a character type so far removed from her usual roles, Alan Rickman, whose shy, tortured, and restrained turn as Alex Hughes surpasses his efforts in Pride and Prejudice. Even Carrie-Anne Moss and Emily Hampshire, in their short appearances in the movie, impart an aura of uniqueness that you feel their presence even when they are absent from the screen.

Charming, beautifully-shot, and wilfully unpredictable, Snow Cake has a personality of its own that deserves to be watched.

First published at incinemas on 21 December 2006

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