Review: ‘In the Rearview,’ starring Maciek Hamela and Ukrainian refugees

September 14, 2023

by Carla Hay

Members of the Lichko family in a scene from “In the Rearview” (Photo courtesy of Affinity Cine and SaNoSi Productions)

“In the Rearview”

Directed by Maciek Hamela

Ukrainian and Polish with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in Ukraine and in Poland in early 2022, the documentary film “In the Rearview” features a nearly all-white group of people (with one black person) who were affected by the Russian invasion war of Ukraine.

Culture Clash: “In the Rearview” director Maciek Hamela, who is from Poland, documented the van rides that he gave to refugees escaping from Ukraine to Poland.

Culture Audience: “In the Rearview” will appeal mainly to people who are interested in watching a documentary about what it was like to evacuate from Ukraine during the Russian invasion that began in 2022.

A scene from “In the Rearview” (Photo courtesy of Affinity Cine and SaNoSi Productions)

The compelling documentary “In the Rearview” offers a glimpse into what some Ukrainian refugees were experiencing during the Russian invasion in 2022, while riding in a rescue van crossing the border into Poland. The film is intimate and sometimes very raw. It’s filmed in cinéma vérité style, in every sense of the word: There are no interviews, no re-enactments and no follow-ups to see what happened to the people in the documentary. “In the Rearview” had its world premiere at the 2023 Cannes Film Festival and its North American premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival.

“In the Rearview” is the feature-film directorial debut of Maciek Hamela, a Polish citizen who volunteered to drive a van of Ukrainian refugees from Ukraine to Poland when the Russian invasion began in February 2022. About a month after Hamela began doing these rescue missions, he started filming these trips at the end of March 2022. Most of the documentary’s footage shows the passengers inside the van, with the camera facing the passengers. Hamela has said in interviews that all filming was done by human camera operators—not a fixed or hidden camera on a dashboard (also known as a dash cam)—so that the participants knew that they were being filmed at the time.

There are several documentaries that chronicle the horrors of war. In the case of the Russian-Ukrainian war, documentaries about this war tend to focus on the people who are stuck or left behind in the war zone, or the documentaries have discussions of the politics that led to this war. “In the Rearview” has a unique perspective, because it’s about the transition period when war refugees know that they are leaving for a safer place, but there’s still a lot of anxiety and fear of what’s ahead.

It goes without saying that the refugees have had to leave almost all of their possessions behind in their abandoned homes. What causes much more agony is that many of the refugees have been involuntarily separated from loved ones or know that their loved ones have died. The people who have been separated from their loved ones often don’t know where their loved ones are. And if they do know where their loved ones are, communication sometimes isn’t possible for long stretches of time, because the war-torn areas often have no electricity or Internet service. Adding to the pain is the fact that some of the refugees need medical help that they won’t be able to get until they’re safely out of Ukraine.

All of these issues weigh heavily on the refugee passengers who are featured in the documentary. They are not identified by name while they are shown in the van. However, the names of the participants are listed in the end credits of “In the Rearview.” Hamela can be heard and briefly seen during these trips, as he has conversations with the people who are temporarily in his care during this terrible time in the refugees’ lives. Unlike some documentarians, Hamela doesn’t want to make himself the center of the attention during filming. He comes across as compassionate, humble and someone who deeply cares about the safety of these refugees.

Many of the passengers who are in the documentary are groups of families. A few of the refugees are traveling alone. Many are deep in thought and don’t say anything. They look like they’re too much in shock to speak. Some of the refugees are talkative, as if they want to unload some of the burdens they’re feeling.

People of many different generations are featured. The children under the age of 8 are often too young to fully understand what’s happening, but they know something is very wrong. In one of the documentary’s segments, a family with three generations of people, including two married grandparents, are in the van. The grandmother says, “We only left because of the kids.” She later gets teary-eyed when she talks about the family’s 9-year-old cow named Beauty that the family had to leave behind.

Another family has brought the family’s 5-month-old cat (a male with black and white fur), and is shown keeping the cat safe by having it tucked into a basket during the evacuation. The wife in the family says she no longer dreams when she sleeps. She says it’s because at night, she is constantly hearing explosions.

During another ride, a woman in her late 20s or early 30s is a pregnant surrogate, who wonders aloud what will happen after she gives birth. The woman who was supposed to raise this unborn child is apparently missing and is possibly dead. The pregnant surrogate, who is accompanied by her own mother during this van ride, seems to want to take her mind off of this dire situation by talking about her goal to one day open a bakery/sweets shop where people can test the pastries before eating.

The hellish experiences of the war are discussed in a few of the conversations. A girl who’s about 13 or 14 years old talks about witnessing a rape that happened as a direct result of the war. During another van ride, a woman in her 30s talks about how her father’s fingers had to be amputated because of injuries he got while trying to rescue her mother.

In a family of five people, identified in the end credits as having the surname Lichko, the family’s stressed-out patriarch Kirill Lichko describes how his house was bombed while his family members were inside. “I don’t know how they survived,” he says of his family members, with a mixture of relief and apprehension. Kirill has a 5-year-old daughter named Sofia Lichko, who is intelligent and polite. The members of this family were able to escape with their identification, so Sofia demonstrates how she was taught to show her ID form if she’s asked to show her ID.

The van is also a makeshift ambulance that doesn’t have medical supplies but is able to accommodate people who are not able to sit up. One of the more memorable refugees in the documentary is an injured college student, who is originally from the Democratic Republic of Congo. She is traveling alone and has injuries that require medical attention, so she is seen lying down in pain as she tells her story.

The Congolese immigrant says she came to Ukraine to study the oil industry and has been living in the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv for the past 10 years. She has a sister who lives in Ternopil, Ukraine, because her sister came to Ukraine to study economics. This Congolese immigrant says the oil industry doesn’t interest her.

She also mentions that during her time in Ukraine, she opened a shop that sold African imports, but the business failed. Despite all of the uncertainty over her future, she is certain that she will come back to live in Ukraine, which she says is like a second homeland for her. She says she will return to Ukraine “when things calm down.”

These rescue trips across the border are also fraught with tension when the van is stopped by soldiers at the border. The documentary doesn’t show anyone being turned away, but you get the feeling that Hamela would’ve just found another way to get the refugees across the border. The evacuations filmed in this documentary happened early enough in the war for the refugees to be let across the border much easier than if they tried to evacuate when things got worse during the war.

“In the Rearview” is very much a no-frills “snapshot” documentary, where viewers are just given glimspses into the lives of the people who are featured. There are a few questions that remain unanswered, such as: “How did Hamela deal with a shortage of gas fuel in the Ukraine?” “Where did he drop off people who had nowhere to go?” “How far was he willing to go to drive people to help them find their missing loved ones?” Although “In the Rearview” does not answer these questions, viewers will have a clear sense of the vulnerable emotions of these refugees who were filmed during a very tumultuous and dangerous time in their lives.

Review: ‘EO,’ starring Sandra Drzymalska, Lorenzo Zurzolo, Mateusz Kosciukiewicz and Isabelle Huppert

November 15, 2022

by Carla Hay

EO (played by Tako) in “EO” (Photo courtesy of Janus Films and Sideshow)


Directed by Jerzy Skolimowski

Polish, Italian and French with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in Poland and Italy, the dramatic film “EO” features an all-white cast of characters representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: A former circus donkey named EO experiences highs and lows and different levels of freedom and captivity during his travels. 

Culture Audience: “EO” will appeal primarily to people interested in an emotionally moving film that follows the life of a specific animal for a certain period of time.

Lorenzo Zurzolo and EO (played by Tako) in “EO” (Photo courtesy of Janus Films and Sideshow)

“EO,” a dramatic film made to look like a documentary, tells the fascinating and sometimes-harrowing story of a lovable donkey named EO, whose life becomes uncertain after losing his circus home. The “EO” film is so impressive with its realism, some viewers might think that it’s a non-fiction movie. Of course, one of the biggest indications that “EO” is a fictional film is that Oscar-nominated French actress Isabelle Huppert has a role as a fictional character in the movie. Her screen time in “EO” is less than 15 minutes, but she makes her screen time very memorable, as she almost always does in her on-screen roles.

Directed by Jerzy Skolimowski (who co-wrote the “EO” screenplay with Ewa Piaskowska), “EO” is filmed cinéma vérité-style, shown entirely from EO’s perspective. “EO” had its world premiere at the 2022 Cannes Film Festival, where the movie won the Jury Prize and Cannes Soundtrack Award for Best Composer. “EO” composer Pawel Mykietyn’s score is certainly the musical soul of the film, because there are some sections of the movie with no human dialogue. “EO”—which also screened at the 2022 Toronto International Film Festival and the 2022 New York Film Festival—is Poland’s official entry for Best International Feature Film consideration for the 2023 Academy Awards.

“EO” begins in Poland, where is EO performing in a circus tent with his handler, an actress named Kasandara (played by Sandra Drzymalska), who treats EO with kindness and respect. Kasandra’s boyfriend is a circus co-worker named Wasyl (played by Maciej Stepniak), who is controlling and mean-spirited. An early scene in the movie shows Wasyl hitting EO because he doesn’t think EO is moving fast enough. Sensitive viewers be warned: There’s even worse animal cruelty later on in the movie.

The circus is under pressure because animal-rights activists are protesting outside while the circus operates. The activists want the circus to be shut down because they think that circuses and carnivals have rampant animal torture and other animal abuse. Early on in the movie, the circus goes bankrupt, so all the circus’ animals are repossessed. Kasandra is devastated.

The rest of “EO” shows what happens in EO’s life as he goes from place to place. His journey takes him from Poland to Italy. And his travels include living on a farm; being a stray animal; encountering a truck driver named Mateo (played by Mateusz Kościukiewicz); and befriending a young nomad named Vito (played by Lorenzo Zurzolo), who is training to be a priest and has a history of being the lover of an unnamed wealthy countess, played by Huppert.

There’s a lot more that happens in the movie, but it’s best if people know as little as possible about “EO” except the basic concept of the film and why EO ended up as a donkey without a permanent home. Viewers will be swept up in the suspense over what will happen to EO. And although it’s not really accurate to say that the movie’s donkey (whose real name is Tako) is acting, he certainly shows enough personality for viewers to feel empathy for him.

One of the standout characteristics of “EO” is the stunning cinematography by Michal Dymek. Many of the scenes are drenched in rich hues, such as red and blue, making the movie sometimes look like a very artsy nature documentary. And because the camera angles are often from the donkey’s perspective, viewers will get EO’s outlook on the contrasting beauty and horror at that exists this world for animals that are treated like property instead of like a member of Earth’s ecosystem family.

“EO” isn’t a completely perfect film, because the movie is occasionally slow-paced and has scenes that seem to drag on a little longer than necessary. However, the point of “EO” is that life for animals (especially when living in harsh conditions) can often be depressing and dull by human standards, even if the animals are surrounded by a gorgeous landscape. This isn’t the type of fantasy movie where a stray animal has to find a home and almost every scene is an adventure scene. “EO” is a striking and effective reminder that how we treat animals represents the best and worst of humanity.

Janus Films and Sideshow will release “EO” in select U.S. cinemas on November 18, 2022.

Review: ‘Three Minutes—A Lengthening,’ starring Glenn Kurtz and Maurice Chandler

August 31, 2022

by Carla Hay

Residents of Nasielsk, Poland in 1938 in “Three Minutes — A Lengthening” (Photo courtesy of Family Affair Films/U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum/Super LTD)

“Three Minutes — A Lengthening”

Directed by Bianca Stigter

Some language in Polish with subtitles

Culture Representation: In the documentary film “Three Minutes—A Lengthening,” an all-white group of people (some who are American, some who are European) talk about a 1938 three-minute film of residents of Nasielsk, Poland, a city that was devastated by the Holocaust and other Nazi oppression.

Culture Clash: Most of the city’s Jewish residents were either murdered or displaced because of the Holocaust.

Culture Audience: “Three Minutes—A Lengthening” will appeal mainly to people who are interested in personal and intimate stories about the Holocaust and Polish history.

Residents of Nasielsk, Poland in 1938 in “Three Minutes — A Lengthening” (Photo courtesy of Family Affair Films/U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum/Super LTD)

The documentary “Three Minutes—A Lengthening” has a three-minute, amateur silent film as its centerpiece, but this non-fiction movie is an effective story of the long-lasting and devastating effects of the Holocaust. The three-minute film was taken in 1938, and it shows less than two dozen residents of Nasielsk, Poland, which had a population of about 7,000 people at the time. Of those 7,000 residents, about 3,000 were Jewish people. By the end of World War II in 1945, most of the Jewish people of Nasielsk would be murdered or displaced because of the Holocaust.

Directed by Bianca Stigter and narrated by Helena Bonham Carter, “Three Minutes—A Lengthening” begins by showing the three-minute film, which is a montage of people gathered outside. Most of the people in the three-minute film are aware of the camera and seem to be fascinated by it, since hand-held film cameras were considered a new invention at the time. It’s a “slice of life” film that shows everyday people going about their lives and reacting to being filmed. It’s even more poignant knowing that the people in the movie had no idea about the death and destruction that would come with the Nazi invasion of Poland in September 1939.

The person who recorded the film was David Kurtz, a Polish native (born in 1988) who immigrated to the United States, where he lived in Brooklyn, New York. At the time, Kurtz was on a European vacation with his wife and three friends named Mr. and Mrs Louis Melina and S.E. Diamond, who Louis Melina’s older sister. Poland was an unexpected detour on this trip. Kurtz took his film camera with him, not knowing at the time that these would be the last photographic images of many of the Nasielsk residents before the Holocaust.

Decades later, David’s grandson Glenn Kurtz found the footage and donated it to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. Glenn is the main commentator of “Three Minutes—A Lengthening,” who tells his stories about his quest to find anyone from the film who was still alive or anyone who had more information about the people in the three-minute film. “Three Minutes—A Lengthening” also includes commentary from Maurice Chandler, who was in the three-minute film when he was a 13-year-old boy.

Everyone commenting in “Three Minutes—A Lengthening” is heard only in voiceover. Other interviewees include Andrzej Lubieniecki (who lived from 1919 to 2017), a former resident of Nasielsk; Evelyn Chandler Rosen (Maurice Chandler’s daughter); Marcy Rosen (Maurice Chandler’s granddaughter); author Zdzisław Suwiński; and author Katarzyna Kacprzak. Marcy Rosen was the one who contacted Glenn Kurtz to inform him that her grandfather Maurice was in the three-minute film.

“Three Minutes—A Lengthening” starts off with lighthearted stories that give an analysis of what people were wearing and how it signified which type of Jewish clique they were in at the time. For example, boys who wore newsboy caps were supposed to be in a different clique than boys who wore black hats with short brims. But the stories gets darker and brutal when it’s described what eventually happened when Adolf Hitler’s Nazis invaded Nasielsk. These are Holocaust stories that have been told before, but they are no less impactful in a 72-minute movie like “Three Minutes—A Lengthening.”

Super LTD released “Three Minutes—A Lengthening” in select U.S. cinemas on August 19, 2022.

Review: ‘Woman on the Roof,’ starring Dorota Pomykała

June 27, 2022

by Carla Hay

Dorota Pomykała (pictured at far right) in “Woman on the Roof” (Photo by Ita Zbroniec-Zajt)

“Woman on the Roof”

Directed by Anna Jadowska

Polish with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in 2021, in an unnamed city in Poland, dramatic film “Woman on the Roof” features an all-white cast of characters representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: A 60-year-old woman’s financial problems and depression lead her to commit a desperate crime that sends her life on a further downward spiral. 

Culture Audience: “Woman on the Roof” will appeal primarily to people interested in watching raw and realistic dramas that depict how mental health can affect how people cope with problems.

Dorota Pomykała and Bogdan Koca in “Woman on the Roof” (Photo by Ita Zbroniec-Zajt)

“Woman on the Roof” shows in stark and unflinching ways what can happen when people with mental health issues can suffer even more from neglect and denial. Dorota Pomykała gives a haunting portrayal of someone trapped in an emotional quicksand of desperation. This drama is an effective portrait of how depression can be stifling and often misunderstood. “Woman on the Roof” had its world premiere at the 2022 Tribeca Film Festival in New York City, where Pomykała won the prize for Best Performance in an International Narrative Feature.

Written and directed by Anna Jadowska, “Woman on the Roof” (which takes place in an unnamed city in Poland) shows right from the movie’s opening scene that 60-year-old Miosława “Mira” Napieralska (played by Pomykała) is very troubled. After doing some laundry, Mira is seen going up to the roof of her apartment building. She then goes to the edge of the roof, as the camera shows a close-up of her feet. It looks like she’s about to jump.

The movie then abruptly cuts away and begins showing what led up to this apparently suicidal moment. Most of “Woman on the Roof” consists of these flashback scenes to explain why Mira has felt so alone and desperate, she apparently wants to kill herself. The information is revealed in bits and pieces, like parts of a puzzle. Mira is very introverted and quiet, so many scenes in this movie have no dialogue when Mira is by herself. Whatever thoughts she’s having in these moments of solitude and isolation might only be indicated by her facial expressions or body language.

Mira’s living situation is an example of how someone can be with other people but still feel lonely. She lives in a three-bedroom apartment with her husband Julek Napieralska (played by Bogdan Koca), who calls her Mirka. Their adult son Mariusz Napieralska (played by Adam Bobik) lives with them. It’s never stated or shown what Mariusz does for a living or how long he’s been living with his parents. Mariusz is very mild-mannered and stays out of his parents’ marital problems.

Mira and Julek have a marriage where the passion has left the relationship long ago. It’s later mentioned that it was Mira’s idea for her and Julek to start sleeping in separate bedrooms for an untold number of years. Julek and Mira live like roommates who aren’t particularly interested in each other any more. Mira works as a midwife in a hospital maternity ward, but she doesn’t seem to have any passion for her work either. Mira is not close to any of her co-workers, and she has no friends.

On the afternoon of July 26, 2021, after buying some fish food at an aquarium store, Mira commits a crime that will take her down a very dark road of humiliation and shame. She walks into a small bank and nervously tells the bank teller Elwira Piatek (played by Dominika Biernat), who’s the only employee on duty, to give money to Mira because she’s robbing the bank. At first, Elwira thinks it’s a joke.

But when Mira pulls a kitchen knife out of her purse, Elwira says that she’s going to call the police. Elwira is so much in shock that this seemingly harmless-looking older woman is robbing the bank, she gives Mira multiple chances to change her mind before Elwira calls the police. Mira seems to be in a panic though and won’t put the knife away, so Elwira calls the police to report an armed robbery in progress.

When it starts to sink in to Mira that the police will be there at any moment, Mira quickly flees the scene of the crime and eventually gets on a crowded bus to hide. When she arrives at home, Mira acts as if nothing happened. She keeps this secret to herself. But it won’t be a secret for long, because a day or two later, two investigating cops show up unannounced at her apartment door when Mira, Julek and Mariusz are at home. About two-thirds of the movie is about the aftermath of this police visit.

Press materials for “Woman on the Roof” mention that the movie is partially inspired by a real-life story of an elderly woman who committed a bank robbery. The real-life woman’s name, where she committed the crime and when the bank robbery happened are not mentioned in the press materials. As time goes on in “Woman on the Roof,” it’s obvious that the crime that Mira committed is a sympton of her larger problem of being depressed.

However, people around Mira misunderstand that depression is Mira’s core issue, and they only want to focus on the crime that she committed as Mira’s biggest problem. It turns out that Mira is in debt for 100,000 złotsys, which is about $22,597 in early 2020s U.S. dollars. But even if Mira had the money to pay back the debt, it wouldn’t erase her struggles with depression.

One of the more interesting aspects of “Woman on the Roof” is that even though it’s a film about a very dark subject, the movie’s cinematography (by Ita Zbroniec-Zajt) is awash in bright light, even indoors. At times, the lighting gives the appearance that’s similar to film photography that looks close to being overexposed. In addition, most of the people in this movie wear very light-colored clothing. For example, Mira wears a lot of white and light blue outfits.

Viewers can interpret these filmmaker creative choices in many ways. However, it seems to be writer/director Jadowska’s way of showing how even during this bright and sunny summer and even when Mira wears light-colored clothes, Mira’s problems are like a dark cloud that she can’t escape when her life starts to fall apart. She’s so down and depressed, viewers will feel the weight of it, even on a sunlit and clear day that might lighten someone else’s mood, but won’t lift Mira out of her emotional rut.

In a compelling way, “Woman on the Roof” also points out then even when someone gets therapy for a mental illness, it might not be enough if it’s the wrong type of therapy, or if the therapy ends too soon. “Woman on the Roof” is definitely not the movie to watch if you’re looking for upbeat entertainment with a guaranteed happy ending. But if you want to see a well-acted movie that shows a richly layered interior life of a woman who’s teetering on the edge of suicidal thoughts, then “Woman on the Roof” might provide better understanding and some compassion for people who are going through similar struggles.

Review: ‘Never Gonna Snow Again,’ starring Alec Utgoff, Maja Ostaszewska, Agata Kulesza, Weronika Rosati, Katarzyna Figura, Andrzej Chyra and Łukasz Simlat

August 17, 2021

by Carla Hay

Alec Utgoff and Agata Kulesza in “Never Gonna Snow Again” (Photo courtesy of Kino Lorber)

“Never Gonna Snow Again”

Directed by Małgorzata Szumowska and Michał Engler

Polish, Russian, French and Vietnamese with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in an unnamed city in Poland, the dramatic film “Never Gonna Snow Again” features an all-white cast of characters representing the working-class and upper-middle-class.

Culture Clash: A Ukrainian immigrant works as a masseur for well-to-do people in a Polish neighborhood, and he has the power to hypnotize them to try to help them solve their emotional problems.

Culture Audience: “Never Gonna Snow Again” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in artsy European films that leave much of the movie open to interpretation.

Alec Utgoff in “Never Gonna Snow Again” (Photo courtesy of Kino Lorber)

“Never Gonna Snow Again” is sure to inspire thoughts and discussions about who the mystery man is at the center of this artsy and often-eccentric drama. Is he a supernatural being? Is he a psychic? Is he someone or something else? Don’t expect the movie to reveal this information because it’s a question that is deliberately left so open-ended, there is no right or wrong answer. The movie is an intriguing but sometimes slow-paced portrait that quietly observes issues related to social classes and the environment, as well as the ripple effects of compassion.

Written and directed by Małgorzata Szumowska and Michał Engler, “Never Gonna Snow Again” offers subtle and not-so-subtle commentaries on the class divides between servants and the well-to-do people who employ them. It’s the age-old debate about money versus happiness, and how these two universal human pursuits could be intertwined or not related at all. The people who employ an enigmatic masseur in “Never Gonna Snow Again” at various times have to come to terms with how they reconcile their money with their happiness.

In the beginning of “Never Gonna Snow Again,” masseur Zhenia (played by Alec Utgoff) is in an office meeting with an unnamed older gentleman, who has the power to approve where Zhenia will live next. The movie never really describes what type of official is presiding over this meeting, but viewers might assume it’s some type of immigration officer. Zhenia, who is originally from the Ukraine, points to a map of Poland and tells him, “I want to live here.” (“Never Gonna Snow Again” was actually filmed in Ireland, but the filmmakers Szumowska and Engler are Polish.)

The official makes a reference to Russia’s 1986 Chernobyl nuclear power plant disaster, by saying to Zhenia: “You were born seven years before the disaster, on the very same day. Perhaps you are radioactive. I feel very strange around you. Please help me.” Zhenia then gets up, stands behind the man, and holds the man’s head in both of his hands and begins massaging. Zhenia calmly tells the man that Zhenia is taking away the man’s misery and sickness.

It’s here that viewers first see that Zhenia has the power to hypnotize. The man relaxes and then seems to lose consciousness or appears to be in a deep trance with his eyes closed. Zhenia takes advantage of the moment to forge the man’s signature on some documents and use the official stamp on the desk to legitimize the documents. Zhenia then takes the documents and leaves with the large black case that he always carries with him. What’s in the case? His fold-out massage table.

Zhenia is next seen in an upscale neighborhood in Poland, where he begins work as a masseur to men and women. It’s a gated community where neighbors either know each other or seem to know each other’s business. As time goes on, Zhenia gets more clients through word of mouth.

Because of the intimate nature of his massage work, Zhenia’s clients end up confiding in him about things that bother them. Sometimes they make confessions while awake, while other times they say personal things out loud while under hypnosis. Zhenia doesn’t take advantage of any of his clients when they’re under hypnosis.

His main motivation for the hypnosis seems to be to ease their troubles. However, he doesn’t always get their permission to hypnotize his clients. The movie doesn’t seem to make a judgment one way or the other about how ethical or unethical Zhenia is with his hypnosis techniques. However, he does get more emotionally attached to some clients compared to others.

The people who end up becoming Zhenia’s massage clients are all middle-aged and all live in the same neighborhood:

  • Maria (played by Maja Ostaszewska), a married mother of three underage kids—two daughters and one son—who don’t seem to like her very much. Maria is a heavy drinker (she guzzles wine and liquor at all hours of the day and night), and she might be an alcoholic. Her unnamed husband (played by Krzysztof Czeczot) is aware of Maria’s drinking problem, but he only points it out to her when she does or says something embarrassing in public.
  • Ewa (played by Agata Kulesza), an eccentric widow, who at one point squawks like a pheasant in the movie. She doesn’t approve of the close friendship that her teenage son Jan (played by Maciej Drosio) has with another teenage boy (played by Olaf Marchwicki), who lives across the street and whom Ewa calls “disturbed.” It’s implied that Jan (who’s very quiet and introverted) might be gay and closeted and might be more than friends with his constant companion.
  • An unnamed male cancer patient (played by Lukasz Simlat), who has been in and out of remission. He and his wife Ewa (played by Weronika Rosati) have a son together who’s about 8 or 9 years old. Ewa and Zhenia seem to have a mutual attraction to each other, based on the way they exchange glances when Zhenia comes over to visit.
  • An unnamed single woman (played by Katarzyna Figura), who lives with her three male French bulldogs, whom she treats as her children. The dogs’ names are Hugo, Borys and Filip.
  • An unnamed retired army soldier (played by Andrzej Chyra), who has the reputation of being the crankiest person in the neighborhood.

“Never Gonna Snow Again” makes multiple references to Chernobyl, because it’s revealed that Zhenia is from the northern Ukraine city of Pripyat, which is near Chernobyl. The nuclear explosion at Chernobyl caused snow-like dust and debris. And it’s hinted at that Zhenia’s family was destroyed over the Chernobyl disaster. Therefore, anything that looks like snow might cause bad memories for Zhenia.

Zhenia has brief flashbacks to his childhood, which give more clues of how the Chernobyl tragedy affected him and his loved ones. The title of this movie is open to interpretation, but more than once it’s mentioned that people don’t want something like the Chernobyl disaster to happen again. Snow is often used in the movie as a symbol of the environment’s way of healing (during climate change as Earth’s temperature gets dangerously hotter) and as a way of hurting.

“Never Gonna Snow Again” is not the type of movie that will appeal to people who expect the type of movie about neighborhood scandals being revealed or a big mystery being solved by a newcomer to the neighborhood. That would be a very Hollywood treatment of this story. Instead, the movie is more of a “slice of life” look at what happens when people who are so accustomed to putting up certain outward appearances to their neighbors sometimes lose touch with who they really are and their true inner feelings.

Zhenia at times seems to be magical or supernatural figure who helps his clients get in touch with his feelings. But the movie doesn’t come right out who and what his, but rather shows his purpose in the story. He’s saintly, but he’s no angel, since the movie shows that he has very human carnal desires.

Utgoff’s absorbing performance as Zhenia carries the movie in a way that will make viewers curious to know more about Zhenia. But even though Zhenia is skilled at getting people to open up to him emotionally, Zhenia as a character often remains a blank slate, with very little revealed about his past and what he wants out of life. (For example, when one of his clients asks Zhenia about his love life, he avoids answering the questions by saying he’s too busy to date anyone.)

In that sense, “Never Gonna Snow Again” is very much like coloring book that deliberately hasn’t been filled in yet. Viewers have to decide for themselves what contextual shades they want for this story so that the story can mean something to them. And for people who don’t want to do that, it might be better to leave this movie alone because there might be too much ambiguity for the movie to be enjoyable.

Kino Lorber released “Never Gonna Snow Again” in select U.S. cinemas and on Kino Now on July 30, 2021. The movie’s Blu-ray and DVD release date in on September 28, 2021. “Never Gonna Snow Again” was released in Poland on June 4, 2021.

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