Every few weeks, Robby Cimino will discuss foreign and independent films, the strange and the obscure.
“Snow Cake,” a 2006 Canadian drama film, was selected first for the Cinema Arts Centre’s “Staff Pick” series. The poignant film explores the unconventional relationship between an adult woman with autism, Linda Freeman (Sigourney Weaver) and a sour, quiet man named Alex Hughes (Alan Rickman).
Without spoiling anything, within the first few minutes of the film, something shocking happens setting the trajectory for the rest of the story. This happening leads our protagonist, Alex to the Canadian locality of Wawa, where he meets the childlike Linda.
A tearful Alex recounts the shocking event for Linda, who stands unphased at her front door. Alex, caught off-guard, is nonplussed by the vacant apathy with which she responds to the traumatizing news. Wondering if she is in a state of shock, Alex offers her a bag of balls that glow when bounced: gifts from her daughter.
She spins them near to her eyes and giggles. There is something different about Linda. It is visible on Alex’s face.
After shedding his dripping winter coat, Alex feels obligated to stay and help Linda for the time that would be the mourning period post-tragedy for most people. The film takes place over Linda and Alex’s strange week together.
Linda is a complex character, idiosyncratic yet charming. She stuffs handfuls of snow into her mouth and claims that having an orgasm is “the inferior version of having a mouthful of snow.” When playing Linda’s altered version of Scrabble, a variant that encourages the use of nonsense words about superheroes, her pervading wisdom strikes the seemingly ice-cold heart of Alex. Watching the two opposites attempt a civil game of Scrabble is a joy.
Alex, who shares a similarly surly personality with another character in the Rickman wardrobe, Severus Snape of the Harry Potter films, is delightfully dour. You will grow to love him by film’s end.
The film is shot in such a way that the setting actually feels cold, literally and figuratively. The other residents of Wawa have either been pushed away by Linda or have pushed Linda away themselves, The cinematography makes the distance palpable.
There is a vacant quality to many of the shots filmed outdoors. When Linda begs the stoic Alex to “bounce her up” on a trampoline in her yard, you can feel the empty space. Reluctantly, Alex pumps up and down to an audience of chain-link fences, empty yards and a nosy neighbor, Maggie, played by Carrie-Anne Moss.
Maggie and Alex begin seeing one another covertly when Alex goes out to walk Linda’s dog. The two get on well despite a misunderstanding of Maggie’s profession told to Alex by Linda. The misunderstanding will undoubtedly give you laugh, so I will refrain from saying anything more.
Maggie is the filmmaker’s vehicle for the exposition of Alex’s troubled past. Although he is reserved, Alex is generally receptive to Maggie’s attempts to draw information out of him and viewers should be thankful for her persistence. There is a lot to learn and, as Alex recounts his story with the backdrop of the glistening, red sun on the icy taiga, you will feel the “full-circle” closure of a well-threaded narrative.
In one of the final scenes of the film, Linda dances erratically during a moment that would customarily have someone else in her position in a fragile state. Others at the solemn gathering, aware of Linda’s condition but ignorant of how exactly to help her, tell Linda to stop. Linda’s mother swoops in and says, “She’s fine, let her dance!”
René Bouchard, the Cinema Arts Centre’s director of development, who selected “Snow Cake” as the first staff pick, said that the film was a “loving and heartening treatment of grief, loss, accountability and redemption.”
“Snow Cake is really special and deserves to be seen by more people,” Bouchard said in a statement published on the cinema’s website.