A Film a Week - Black Snow / Nieve negra

One can never go too wrong with Argentinian cinema. And by that, I do not mean some heavy art house and festival stuff. I am talking about the films you could and should see in a regular movie theatre: genre films, crime and political thrillers. Because Argentinian culture and especially cinema is a stellar example of symbiosis of European and American influences. Think of modern classics like Nine Queens, Oscar-winning The Secret in Their Eyes, Ashes of Paradise or even Pablo Trapero’s Carancho and The Clan. Also, one can never go wrong at all with Ricardo Darin in any role. An underdog investigator obsessed with a murder case and entangled in high politics in The Secret in Their Eyes, a cynical shop keeper in Chinese Take-Out, a con artist in Nine Queens or a dying actor in Truman, he can make a memorable part out of pretty much any given material.

While not the best Argentinian thriller ever, Martin Hodara’s Black Snow serves as more than decent hour and half of fun. It is a backwoods noir developed around a family mystery, shot on various locations in Patagonia, visually interesting and tense, with several prominent, even great actors in the cast. Darin is there. Another star of Argentinian genre cinema, Leonardo Sbaraglia, is also there. The legendary Federico Luppi has a supporting part. And the rising star of European cinema, the nomadic Laia Costa (best known for the title role in German one-take extravaganza Victoria) has her premiere in Argentina.

Marcos (Sbaraglia) comes back to Patagonia from Spain with his young and pregnant wife Laura (Costa) to bury his father. The father’s last wish is to find his eternal peace next to his son Juan who died as child, as seen in the opening scene. The land and the house deep in snow-covered mountains now belongs to Marcos’ elder brother Salvador (Darin), with whom Marcos and the in and out of mental institutions sister Sabrina (Dolores Fonzi) are not on speaking terms. There is also an issue of selling the land to a Canadian mining corporation for a large sum of money presented by an old family friend Sepia (Luppi), which Salvador declined in anger. Will Marcos, with Laura’s help, get to an agreement with his brother? What exactly happened to Juan? Will the tragedy in the past come to life in the present?

Plot-wise, Black Snow is a bit predictable, since some of the points and twists are staple diet for the genre, so there is no real element of surprise. The biggest problem is with its final twist that is too randomly convenient. But Hodara does well with the tempo, the atmosphere, the tension and especially with the visuals, showing the nature that is magnificent, dangerous and somewhat dirty under the surface covered with pure white snow, constantly reminding us of the hardships of the mountain life.

But essentially, Black Snow is an actors’ piece and Hodara should be praised for perfect casting. Leonardo Sbaraglia has some of the worldly charm as Marcos, but there is also something dark with him. Laia Costa brings the tactility and once again shows the star potential. Oddly, the biggest surprise is Ricardo Darin, who takes his versatility to another level. His characters were very different, but most of them were extremely verbal. In Black Snow he plays a laconic, almost silent, but menacing wild man and he doesn’t miss a spot. Once again, great job.

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