So, alright, innit, there we was, at the Cannes facking Film Festival bruv, sea breezes blowing fru the old barnet, not a care in world mate, happy as larry, sound as a pound, when what do we go and do like a bunch of cahnts? We only go and watch “Snow in Paradise.” The first film from UK editor-turned-director Andrew Hulme, it’s the second sidebar debut in as many days (after Ryan Gosling’s “Lost River”) for which we have developed Un Certain Disregard. Full of tricksy-yet-tired stylistic flourishes and incomprehensible editing decisions (occasional uncalled-for flashbacks and forwards serve no purpose save to confuse those viewers not already lulled into insensibility) and drowning in a score that manages to be simultaneously intrusive and generic, it’s the definition of tedium, if tedium had a punchably overdone Mockney accent. Innit.
Newcomer Frederick Schmidt plays Dave (well, what other names are there?) a young EastEnder whose uncle Jimmy (Martin Askew, does a lot of staring) is the head of a local crime gang. Dave takes on a job for Jimmy which involves delivering a bag full of drugs to some dodgy people somewhere, and getting the money in return. But Dave, whose Mensa membership must have gotten lost in the post, cleverly lifts a kilo brick from the bag, unbeknownst to reluctant sidekick Tariq (Aymen Hamdouchi), his Muslim best friend. It’s here that the film makes its one true bid at having a reason to exist: when Tariq then goes missing (which couldn’t possibly have anything to do with the missing kilo of powder, could it?) Dave goes looking for him at his mosque, and, while still full of “Wot do you fackin poofters get out of all of this, then?” bravado, finds an oasis of spiritual calm in the midst of his violent and hedonistic lifestyle.
That, however, is in danger of being interesting, which is not this film’s agenda, and so of all the underdeveloped strands of this slipshod, scattershot story, the proto-conversion to Islam is the one most badly underserved. There’s nothing specific about the religion to which Dave is attracted, in fact one gets the sense that any quiet place in which people are nice to him would have done the trick, like, say, a church or a synagogue or a yoga class. And anyway the film’s just not that into selling the idea of a spiritual journey, preferring instead to mash together a load of would-be hardman sequences of Dave snorting his way through his stash, glassing hipsters (because they’ve driven up the property prices!), becoming a heavy for Jimmy, sleeping with his prostitute girlfriend, and being courted by rival gang boss, Mickey.
The shallowness of the characterization of Dave is the film’s chief problem and the one that contributes the most to the tiresomeness of it all. Even in the space of a single scene, his emotions and motivations change like the weather, only less predictably. So near the end, for example, when his chickens are finally coming home to roost with Uncle Jimmy, Dave, who to this point has scarcely had a single line without a profanity or a bit of cheeky rhyming slang awkwardly shoved in, suddenly comes over practically Confucian: “The stronger man contains his anger,” he says, but a second later is a sweating fearful mess, before again transforming into a cold blooded vigilante avenger — all in the space of about two minutes. When there’s no internal reason or rhythm to why a character behaves the way he does, it’s very difficult to stay invested.
And so we didn’t. Throughout this first press screening, a steady stream of journalists bailed, drifting out of the big Debussy auditorium like sand blown across a dune, as we thought to ourselves at one point, pleased with our lyricism. Because seriously, mentally composing haikus about the rhythmic snoring of the man behind us, or the Christmas tree effect of the many phone screens twinkling on and off as people checked and rechecked the time would have been a more productive use of our time. Mostly, however we watched a parade of familiar things happening on screen in a parade of familiar locations (night club; meat locker; wrecking yard) while simultaneously wondering just how on earth someone managed to convince Cannes programmers that the film’s sub-Nick Love, derivative Lahndan gangster schtick is somehow important. Doubtless the Islam aspect, the film’s sole original thought, has something to do with that, but, by the beard of the prophet, there is nothing else here except an ugly, up-itself retread of places we’ve been before and do not care to revisit.
Where possible, we try to go a little easier on debut films and to look at them in a glass half-full sort of way. But with “Snow in Paradise,” so obnoxiously convinced of both its edginess and depth while doing nothing but trotting out the same Cockney gangster cliches we’ve seen done better twenty times elsewhere, all that goodwill is being expended on not giving it a failing grade. Leave it out, son. [D]