Snow Cake
IFC Films // Unrated // $19.95 // September 11, 2007
Review by Francis Rizzo III | posted September 15, 2007
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In 10 Words or Less
Damaged people help fix each other

Reviewer's Bias*
Loves: Alan Rickman, good indie films, Canada
Likes: Carrie-Anne Moss, Sigourney Weaver
Dislikes: The "Magic Retard" character
Hates: Poorly paced movies

The Movie
There's an archetype in films known as the "magic negro," a black character who, despite being "beneath" the other characters, has a special ability that's well beyond the norm (think The Legend of Bagger Vance.) Well, the magic negro has a cousin, who for lack of a better, more PC term, we will call the "magic retard." The most famous one is, of course, Forrest Gump, and the powers tend to just be a incredibly insightful view of life, despite not being able to think straight. The latest member of the gang is Linda, Sigourney Weaver's autistic character in Snow Cake.

Thing is, Linda isn't really the star of the film. The real center of the movie is Alex (Alan Rickman), a British man travelling through Canada, with a shady past trailing behind him. Taking a break in a greasy spoon, he's approached by a young girl with purple hair and a non-stop mouth. Soon, he has a new traveling companion, and shortly thereafter, a new destination. It adds up to a lot of set-up that makes the beginning drag severely, but the result of it all certainly packs a punch.

With the story in progress, we finally meet Linda, as Alex arrives with news for her. Alex' past and Linda's present combine to trap him in her life, as he helps her, intrigued by the incongruities in her behavior and the odd quirks she exhibits. Linda's far from helpless, but there are several things she struggles with, including her dog, the trash and interacting with others. Alex has plenty of problems of his own though, and, with the help of Linda and her horny neighbor Maggie (Carrie-Anne Moss), he'll be able to heal himself.

The main problem with Snow Cake is one that could hardly be avoided. If Linda is truly capable of taking care of herself, as she supposedly is as a high-functioning person with autism, there's not much of a difference between her and anyone else, and thus, no movie. But, if she needs help, she wouldn't be alone, in which case, why would Alex hang around? Thus, she's in an autistic limbo that's hard to believe for anyone not knowledgeable of the numerous variations in how autism presents itself. To them, and truthfully to most people, it comes off as almost either poorly written or poorly acted, as there's an unbalanced feel to Linda's autism. As someone who knows several people with autism though, the tics and behaviors Weaver has as Linda are true to life and thankfully (and sadly for those afflicted) not at all cartoonish.

In watching the film, and waiting for the story to unfold, I began to wonder, what really is the story, and couldn't discern a clear-cut plot. It's more like an unfocused documentary, dropping in on these people's lives for a few days and then saying goodbye. While there's certainly a value in films like that, it can be frustrating to a viewer. Add in a mostly abandoned subplot about a cop interested in Maggie and suspicious of Alex and some style decisions that stand out like a sore thumb from an otherwise staid, yet gorgeous film, and one wonders whether British filmmaker Marc Evans got to make the movie he intended, and if these odd strays are hints to another film he would have made. After all, there's a scene where a holographic pog slammer (look it up) spins on a mirror, with a very strong audio detail of the movement. There's no lead-up to the moment, no follow-up. It just exists, with a sparse sound that's tense and suspenseful for seemingly no reason. It makes very little sense in the context of Snow Cake, but this is the movie I think I want to see more of.

A one-disc release packed in a standard keepcase, this DVD features an animated anamorphic widescreen menu that has options to play the film, select scenes, adjust languages and check out the special features. There are no audio options, while subtitles are available in English SDH and Spanish. There is no closed captioning. Just a note on the scene selection menus: they are simple, but nicely designed, based on an element of the film.

The Quality
The anamorphic transfer on this film is nice and clear, with a good level of detail and appropriate color, though darker scenes look rather grainy. Other than that, and the oddly shaky look of the film's opening segment, there's nothing to complain about here, as there's no dirt or damage, and the image is free of any digital artifacts.

The Dolby Digital 5.1 is pretty solid, with clean dialogue and some well-delivered songs. The surrounds mainly serve to enhance the music, as the mix is mostly a very straightfoward, center-focused piece. One annoying thing about the sound in the film is the odd variation in volume, which is very apparent in the first scene, where the dialogue is just barely louder than a whisper, yet the sound effects that pop in will knock you right out of your seat. While it's somewhat understandable, the possible reasons behind the audio design, it's really uncomfortable to listen to. Thankfully, the majority of the film is on a more even level.

The Extras
There are 10 deleted scenes included here, which run about 12 minutes long, and they show what would have been a different Snow Cake. These scenes show a broader, more explicit view of Linda's autism, sometimes dipping into unintentional comedy. Wisely, they were removed though, as they are completely out-of-place in the finished film's feel. The film's theatrical trailer is also on this DVD. Oddly, IMDB lists two featurettes about the film, which likely aired on IFC, but they aren't available here.

The Bottom Line
Snow Cake is a technically well-made, beautiful film, to be certain, but it moves with the speed of a dead sloth, and as a result, it took me three tries to get through the film without falling asleep. A bit of trimming and a healthy dose of actual storyline would help with that problem, as would a rewrite to eliminate some of the plot holes. Even a top-flight talent like Rickman can only do so much with this material. The DVD looks and sounds quite good, and the minor extras are interesting enough to check out, but there are better portraits of tragedy and hope out there to enjoy, and the portrayal of autism, though truthful in many ways, is a bit too "high-functioning" to be believable in most people's eyes.

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