We first glimpse Zenia’s “gift,” his “super-power,” when he interviews for a work permit with a Polish bureaucrat, the first person we hear make a joke about where the young man is from.
“Pripyat? Near Chernobyl? Perhaps you’re radioactive!”
Others will make this crack as the Russian Zenia, played with a quiet inscrutability by Alec Utgoff, works his way through a gated subdivision of McMansions and bored, sad or disillusioned Poles.
Because the masseuse has gotten his work permit. He rubber-stamped it himself, after he used his touch and hypnosis to put the pencil-pusher to sleep. That’s his “super-power,” something he trots out at the end of massages for a widow, a bulldog fanatic, an alcoholic housewife, a cancer patient and a brusque, bullying soldier.
Zenia is the face and voice of calm reassurance, a “guru” to one and all, many who are wondering if it’s “Never Gonna Snow Again.”
The latest from Malgorzata Szumowska and Michal Englert, the Polish creators of “In the Name Of” and “Mug” and “Body,” is a cryptic dream, a drift into nostalgia with dark hints of a future without snow, or perhaps with the ashy fallout of Chernobyl repeated instead.
Chernobyl isn’t a text here, but a subtext as Zenia has dreams and flashbacks to the mother who died when he was young. He lives in a Polish version of those ugly, aged “Soviet” apartment high-rises and stumbles into packs of dogs like those left behind when the nuclear accident emptied the city and all the towns around it.
And he’s as inclined to speak his hypnotic words to his clients in Russian as he is Polish. To a one, they pass right out — most proclaiming they’ve “never felt more alive” when they wake back up.
The movie’s not utterly impenetrable. But with its silences, glacial pace and the intimate nature of its minor moments of drama, downing an espresso or two before watching it is the best guarantee that Zenia won’t put you to sleep, too.
The houses have nearly identical facades and similar floorplans, each with its own elaborate (and tacky) classical music doorbell — “Eine Kleine Nachtmusik,” “Ride of the Valkryies.” There are rarely curtains behind the former “Iron Curtain,” apparently. People know each other’s business, and fret over who might be Zenia’s favorite.
What are seeing here? What is the message? Is it a parable about misguided nostalgia for the “bad old days” of the Soviet Bloc, revived in the Putin “strong man” era? Are the former satellite states, with their rightward government tilt, being hypnotized by a Russian massaging away their cares?
“I am taking away your misery,” Zenia purrs as this or that vulnerable suburbanite melts in his hands.
That’s one view of “Never Gonna Snow Again (Sniegu juz nigdy nie bedzie),” not that there are many obvious other take-aways served up here.
As it’s an opaque story told in a style quite unlike anything Hollywood or anybody else is serving up, perhaps it’s worth the challenge seeing it presents. I found it lacking much of anything other than tone, obscurity and randomness.
MPA Rating: unrated, sex, nudity, smoking
Cast: Alec Utgoff, Maja Ostaszewska, Agata Kulesza, Katarzyna Figura
Credits: Scripted and directed by Malgorzata Szumowska, Michal Englert. A Kino Lorber release.
Running time: 1:55