When low-rent hitman Walter (Jürgen Rißmann) accidentally kills the wrong person, his boss tells him he's gotta take a break. Against his better judgment, Walter takes a tip from a friend about a job up in the mountains some 2,000 miles away, on the promise that it will be "like a paid vacation." Upon arrival, his car gets stuck in the snow, his obnoxious partner Micky (Thomas Wodianka) gets on his nerves, and Berger (Reiner Schöne), the man with the assignment, isn't there, only his wife Sibylle (Eva-Katrin Hermann). Walter and Micky are left to twiddle their thumbs waiting for Berger while Sibylle causes trouble, and events quickly spiral out of control.
Writing out the summary of Snowman's Land makes it sound sort of like In Bruges, and for a twenty or so minutes, the film has a nice understated absurdity to it. After realizing he's shot the wrong guy, Walter gets the right target in his sights, but holds up the picture next to the guy's face, just to make sure. His meditating boss tells him about a sort of lightbulb therapy and how to pretend you're on a distant, warm beach while staring into them for a few hours every day. The chilly mountains make for a nice backdrop for something goofy but violent to happen.
Sadly, when something violent finally does happen, director/writer Tomasz Thomson doesn't seem to know how to escalate. The film sets up a tricky situation for Walter and Micky, but it struggles to wring an exciting or funny scene from it. The film plods along at a glacial pace as the two men lounge in Berger's hotel-like mansion, watching fuzzy TV and sneaking into the areas Sibylle tells them are off-limits. True to the role, Micky is indeed fairly obnoxious, and probably not as funny as Thomson or Wodianka think he is, and the viewer will probably relate to Walter in the worst way in under twenty minutes.
Of all the characters, Sibylle is the most interesting, but the role is pretty minor; the character hops in her car and drives away for a good 15 minutes of the movie, and she's only given so much to do when she comes back. It seems, for a minute, that the film is going to perk up with her presence, but it doesn't last. Instead, the movie moves onto Berger, who is not a particularly interesting character; he's sadistic and highly suspicious of his two new hires, but he's also pretty bland. Another actor might've been able to infuse some comic energy into the role, but Schöne only perks up for a few seconds at a time.
As the movie twists and turns through the story, it becomes clear that Thomson doesn't really know where he's going. Power shifts from Berger to others, back to Berger. Walter and Micky are okay one minute, and not okay the next. Walter tries to leave, but the film artificially stops him. At the center of all of the chaos is Walter, who doesn't seem to know why he's been stuck in this hell, nor how to change and escape from it. Like every other plot development, the film's finale feels arbitrary, with all the affectation of having conveyed something satisfying and meaningful, but none of the substance.
I guess when working on a foreign film with no stars, there's nothing stopping a designer from taking the arty route with DVD cover design. I don't know how well it conveys the story of the film, but it's certainly memorable and neat-looking. The disc comes in an eco-friendly Amaray case, and there is an insert promoting other Music Box releases.
The Video and Audio
When the action isn't out in the bright, snowy hillsides, Snowman's Land spends most of its time in dingy, underlit rooms with a heavy blue palette and lots of shadow. Many scenes are shot at night. This could spell disaster for a DVD transfer, but this 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen presentation handles contrast and color just right -- I watched very closely, but I didn't find a single instance of banding, which is pretty remarkable. A hint of compression or resolution-related haloing is visible, as well as maybe a touch of crush, and the image is sometimes on the soft side, but that's it -- a fine transfer.
Sound-wise, Snowman's Land is a sparse experience. The film's atmosphere is all about the eerie emptiness of an empty mountain far from civilization, so there aren't a lot of opportunities for this German Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track to show off. The unique squeaky pop-crunch of someone walking through snow, the distant call of birds and twigs snapping, echoing voices in a spacious, empty house, the distant sound of a thumping boombox, and the occasional gunshot are all rendered nicely, with the occasional hint of directionality. English subtitle translation seems fine. A German Dolby Digital 2.0 track is also included.
The one extra is "The Making of Snowman's Land" (19:33), a pretty standard behind-the-scenes featurette. Points for being heavy on interviews rather than clips from the film, and the footage of the trailer the filmmakers shot to sell the film is interesting, but it's not too heavy on information otherwise. A shame the promo trailer isn't included all on its own.
Trailers for Henning Mankell's Wallander, The Heir Apparent: Largo Winch, Viva Riva!, and Mesrine play before the main menu. An original trailer for Snowman's Land is also included.
Snowman's Land gets off on the right foot and has an interesting look in a striking setting, not to mention a handful of laughs, but it's aimless overall. If Thomson had spent a little more time punching up the comedy and refining the story, there might've been a minor masterpiece in the story and characters, but as it is, it's a rental at best.
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