Cinepocalypse 2017: Snowflake (2017 - dir. Adolfo Kolmerer & William James)
Review by Patrick Ripoll ("Tracks of the Damned")
Things aren't going well for Javid (Reza Brojerdi) and Tan (Erkan Acar). It was bad enough to be Turkish refugee criminals on the run in a near-future Berlin that is slowly sliding into total societal collapse. But now there's multiple teams of hitmen coming to kill them, an angel they have to protect, a bizarre electric superhero stalking them, and their quest for revenge has never seemed further from completion. The real insult, however, comes when they discover their lives are actually just part of a screenplay titled Snowflake, one written by Arend Remmers (Alexander Schubert), a dentist who has dreams of becoming a Hollywood writer. And it's a bad screenplay too, one of those awful first-year-film-student-who-has-a-Lock-Stock-And-Two-Smoking-Barrels-poster-on-their-wall kind of action comedies about wacky hitmen and criminals and broken chronology and multiple plots that intersect in needlessly complicated ways. If there are fates worse than death, surely discovering your life is nothing more than a cheap Lucky Number Slevin wannabe is one of them.
Snowflake, the screenplay that dictates their lives and fates, is a total mess. The genius of Snowflake, the feature film debut of German directors Adolfo Kolmerer & William James and screenwriter Arend Remmers, is that it is not. Arend demonstrates absolute control over the atemporal chaos, always feeding backstory, character motivations, and world building details to the audience at precisely the right time. Snowflake is a manic work of great imagination, with several hilarious digressions, but Remmers's impeccable structure and strong characters keep the film from spinning off into meaningless absurdity. Of course credit too must be given to directors Kolmerer and James who demonstrate not only great skill with comedy both verbal and slapstick but also a satisfying restraint to their style. They're committed to telling the underlying emotional story of Snowflake instead of slapping the audience in the face with just how fucking crazy it is.
It's a startlingly assured debut but perhaps the most improbable aspect of this improbable film is that, in telling a story of multiple characters whose paths to revenge are preordained by being part of a screenplay, Snowflake is finally able to breathe some new life into a sub-genre bled bone-dry by over a decade of Korean thrillers and American blue collar neo-noirs and neo-westerns: the "cycle of violence" film. Park Chan-Wook made it popular but the subsequent years since Oldboy have worn down the theme of revenge into a tasteless grey paste. Violence begets violence, revenge does not cure the pain, we're all trapped in our roles, the toxicity of unchecked masculinity, the frailty of redemption, blah blah blah blah blah. That particular gold mine has been overworked and collapsed. No more fish in that pond.
But Snowflake's meta-fictional structure allows Javid and Tan to realize what kind of movie they're in. It allows them to see why the hitmen are being sent after them in the first place. It allows them to understand who their quest for revenge has made them, to atone for their sins, to give them a chance at redemption and grace. Snowflake distinguishes itself from the ignoble world of Pulp Fiction knock-offs in part because it is earnest and sincere. This is important because part of it's goal is to connect the cliches of violent cinema to the political climate of Germany, past and present. The xenophobia and racism of current Germany is connected to it's historical shames, and Snowflake openly questions how honestly the country ever actually confronted it's past, and what peace if any it can hope for it's future.
Sure, Snowflake bites off more than it can chew. Even if the few moments where the comedy falls flat or the grasps at profundity miss the mark can be justified by being part of a script written by a clueless and pretentious dentist, it doesn't make them much more satisfying. But so much of Snowflake works better than it has any right to and even those who walk out unsatisfied will have to admire it's lunatic ambition.
Snowflake plays at the Music Box Theater Sunday, Nov. 5th at 6:30 PM as part of the Cinepocalypse Genre Film Festival.