Review: Black Snow (2017)

Where is Abel your brother, Cain?

by Benjamín Harguindey

Review of Black Snow (Nieve Negra, 2017) by Martín Hodara. Argentina.

Martín Hodara knows his way around genre and it’s a shame Argentina doesn’t get more movies out of him. His last one came out a decade ago: The Signal (La señal, 2007), a film noir starring and co-directed by Ricardo Darín, following the death of longtime collaborator Eduardo Mignona. Before that he was assistant director to Fabián Bielinsky, the treasured filmmaker – also gone too soon – who made Nine Queens (Nueve reinas, 2000) and The Aura (El Aura, 2005), both starring Darín.

Both Hodara and Darín are part of a tradition of doing high-budget crime thrillers, usually set in an exotic location (such as The Aura’s misty woods) or a period of historical significance (The Signal chronicled the last days of Eva Perón, and Nine Queens, which was set in the present day, has attained historical value with its spot-on prediction of the 2001 economic crisis).

Black Snow takes after the former. Set in the remote and snowy Patagonia, it tells the story of two brothers who have been long estranged but are bound in scorn and remorse by a fateful hunting trip from their childhood. The younger Marcos (Leonardo Sbaraglia) returns to Argentina with his pregnant wife Laura (Spaniard Laia Costa) with two quests in mind: bury the ashes of his late father and try to talk his older brother Salvador (Darín) into selling the family cabin for a whopping seven figures. Location, location, location.

Salvador is a hermit who of course doesn’t want to sell and is ready to hold a double-barreled shotgun against his brother at the drop of a hat. Marcos goes around him like a deer in the headlights. What exactly happened between these two? Laura slowly takes over the protagonism from her husband as she attempts to piece the puzzle. Other key players include a third sibling, Sabrina (Dolores Fonzi), who has since been institutionalized, and old-timer Sepia (Federico Luppi), always handy at suggesting self-interest and matter-of-fact corruption.

The story flashes back and forth between past and present, transitioning with simple camera pans that suggest the past holds an active curse over the present. The atmosphere is king in this movie, ominous and oppressive, aided by the photography of the beautiful but bleak Patagonia forests and the muted Winter lightning. Probably what most people will take away from the film, as well as Darín’s morose performance.

Black Snow ends up being rather underwhelming. We never really get an involving scene between Marcos and Salvador. The characters are simply not written like that – Salvador is too gruff and too laconic, holding Marcos at arm’s length, and Marcos is too much of a coward to face him. So the movie feels like it’s less about these two brothers and more about Laura’s outsider impressions of the conflict between them.

The ending comes in the form of two twists, one of them too obvious, the other too random. There’s nothing contradictory about them per se, nor do we feel tricked by the movie, just disappointed. That we’re hyped and subsequently cheated out of a confrontation between the two leads, like there’s a scene missing at the heart of the movie, and that the story isn’t really about anything other than its ending twist.

As it is, Black Snow is a bad case of “That’s it?”.

BenjaBenjamín Harguindey / Managing Editor, Writer (Mar del Plata, Argentina – 1989) Screenwriter graduated from Universidad del Cine, Buenos Aires. Benja’s worked for EscribiendoCine as a film critic since 2010, covering the Biarritz, San Sebastián and Venice festivals. He judged the CILECT Prize and won several writing & criticism contests. He’s published one novel, Noches de Tartaria (2006).

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