In a small village in Bosnia and Herzegovina, a few years after Serbian forces came and began executing their program of ethnic cleansing against the Muslim population, a community of widows and orphans work on the margins of society, crafting handmade pickles and preserves in the hopes of selling them at a meager roadside stand. Despite their woes, this is a dedicated community, where everyone works for a communal purpose and prays for news of their men, all of whom were presumably murdered during the Serbian invasion. But without certainty, there is hope that maybe one day, the women of the village will find their husbands and fathers, a reunion will happen, things will change back to the way they were.
This is the world of Snow, Aida Begic’s well-intentioned but underwhelming feature film debut. There are several problems with Begic’s movie, which plays like a Bosnian retelling of Atom Egoyan’s The Sweet Hereafter filtered through a misunderstanding of Bressonian cinematic principles. While Begic spends countless shots on the women’s work (grinding plums for jam, lugging jars and fruit up and down hills, weaving at the loom), she has made a tragic narrative decision that undermines her attempt to show us the world of these characters; each of them is only given a single, signifying dimension or trait, each serves only a single narrative purpose. The result is a flat ensemble piece that never delivers the gravity of the situation, never makes us believe in the emotional stakes of the story.
Aida Begic’s Snow
The characters are familiar to anyone who has seen any film about life in a small town; There’s the superstitious troublemaker with a heart of gold (who only makes trouble and voices superstitions), the modern girl (hilariously given a single techno song to identify her on the soundtrack, the same passage of which plays each time she appears on screen) who wants to escape to Sweden to reunite with a one night stand who she is sure is her boyfriend (guess how that one turns out), the wise matron who must weigh what is best for the community (before doing the right thing in the end), the young girl who exists on screen only to once again assure us that her father must be alive (He must!! He must be!!!!) and Alma, our heroine, the pretty one (of course) who is the only character shown having any reverence for religion (she wears the hijab, she washes for prayer) and is therefore the moral one, the one who won’t sell out to the greedy, soulless Serbian businessmen who want to buy the women’s land.
This is a deeply conservative movie, and while there is absolutely no denying the horror of Serbia’s actions in Bosnia and the terrible aftermath caused by this conflict, that is no excuse for equating religious orthodoxy with heroism. The only characters in Snow who make good decisions or have any positive effect on the story’s outcome are those who show religious reverence; the more reverent the character, the more meaningful their actions. In the end, though, the failure of Snow lies in its structure, in the decision to manifest this tragic loss through thinly veiled, one-dimensional characters. It’s a shame; there are some good ideas here and a story that desperately deserves a good telling. In the end, though, Snow simply left me cold (zing!).