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April 4, 2013

Snowman’s Land

by Franz Patrick


Snowman’s Land (2010)
★★ / ★★★★

Walter (Jürgen Rißmann) just killed the wrong man and his boss (Detlef Bothe) isn’t happy. Mistakes have a cost especially in their business of killing wives and overdue debtors, but Harry overlooks Walter’s indiscretion just this one time. Not knowing what to do with his free time, Walter decides to take on a job recommended by François (Luc Feit). It involves waiting for Berger (Reiner Schöne), a mob boss, to arrive in his house–which looks like a mansion fused with a warehouse–located in the middle of the forest up in the mountains. When Berger’s wife, Sibylle (Eva-Katrin Hermann) dies accidentally, however, Walter and his friend Micky (Thomas Wodianka) decide to hide the corpse.

In theory, Thomasz Thomson’s “Snowman’s Land” should have worked given that it has all the ingredients in creating a dark comedy about criminals who think they’re too smart for their lies to catch up to them. It is standard in that Walter embodies the more serious side of the duo while Micky is the more impetuous half who has the tendency to attract trouble, but the actors have enough charm to keep me mildly interested. And yet charm proves to be insufficient when the understated jokes are stretched too thin and dispersed so far apart that waiting for the next supposedly funny bit starts to feel like a hassle.

The frozen forest environment and the mobster’s massive home become the most interesting parts of the movie. I enjoyed looking at the way snow covers the pine trees with a certain gentleness and watching characters struggle get from one point to another because the snow is so thick. Micky can’t seem to help but instigate while Walter attempts to maintain his cool. When the material plays upon the essences of their personalities, there is a real spark in their exchanges that doesn’t die out quickly during extended silences.

The most joyous part of the film is when Walter and Micky, right after Sibylle drives away to attend a wild party (to say the least), run all over the compound and explore rooms that they aren’t even supposed to be in. That scene shows the kid inside them–that even though they may consider themselves as tough guys, no one is too old to have fun doing something that one isn’t supposed to be doing. Even though they are criminals, they are relatable in that moment. When they’re surprised at what they had seen, we are surprised, too. There proves to be a reason why certain areas are prohibited.

However, the second half of the film loses its backbone as it juggles too many strands at once. While Berger has an intimidating presence and I wanted to know more about him, the twists and turns in the story eventually begin to feel like a gimmick. The screenplay wishes to touch upon Kazik (Waléra Kanischtscheff), Berger’s right-hand man, Berger’s multimillion dollar goal, and the shady characters around town simultaneously that much of the humor gets lost somewhere in between.

“Snowman’s Land” could have gone in many directions but it decides to go nowhere. During its most frustrating moments when the characters are allowed to just sit around instead of embracing the psychological challenges they might experience from extended isolation, I wondered how exciting it would have been if the Coen brothers, Martin McDonagh, or Aaron Katz were at the helm.

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