'Despite the Falling Snow': Film Review

Courtesy of Falling Snow Ltd
A lifeless love-meets-espionage yarn set in Cold War Russia.
3/31/2017

Novelist/filmmaker Shamim Sarif goes to Cold War-era Russia for an espionage-laced love story.

A then-and-now romantic drama tracing all broken hearts back to Cold War-era duplicity, Shamim Sarif's Despite the Falling Snow finds a Russian-American artist going back to the old country in search of news about an aunt she never knew. Respectably put together but inert, the basic-cable-ready picture has slim theatrical prospects but may attract some attention thanks to current Russophobia.

Rebecca Ferguson (currently onscreen in Life) plays the artist, Lauren, who in 1991 leaves New York for a Moscow gallery show. (Establishing shots ostensibly set in 1991 make no attempt to hide 21st-century skyscrapers.) Her uncle Alex (Game of Thrones' Charles Dance, underused here), who defected as a young man, discourages her, but Lauren has heard too much about Katya, the aunt who never made it out of Russia, not to take the opportunity to explore her roots.

The film bounces back and forth between 1991 and the 1950s, observing as a young Alex (Sam Reid) falls in love with Katya (also played by Ferguson). He's an uncomplicated functionary in the Kremlin's foreign-affairs department; she, unbeknownst to him, is a spy selling secrets to the U.S. Urged on by her fellow spy Misha (Oliver Jackson-Cohen), himself Alex's best friend, Katya allows herself to be wooed by Alex despite his embrace of a government that persecuted her family.

Katya is eventually won over, of course, but the film fails to generate much heat as she wrestles with her conscience, then eventually reveals her secret to Alex and convinces him to defect. Known for earlier films and novels that focus on lesbian relationships, Sarif squeezes a brief one in here: a present-day fling between Lauren and Marina (Antje Traue), a journalist who pretends to be a fan of Lauren's art but actually shares an interest in Alex and Katya's story. That offers a parallel narrative of hidden motives, but Snow does little with the comparison.

Production company: Enlightenment Productions
Distributor: CARU Pictures
Cast: Rebecca Ferguson, Sam Reid, Oliver Jackson-Cohen, Charles Dance, Anthony Head, Antje Traue, Thure Lindhardt
Director-screenwriter: Shamim Sarif
Producer: Hanan Kattan
Executive producers: Ben White, Lisa Tchenguiz, Katherine Priestley
Director of photography: David Johnson
Production designer: Mina Buric
Costume designer: Momirka Bailovic
Editor: Masahiro Hirakubo
Composer: Rachel Portman
Casting directors: Kelly Valentine Hendry, Victor Jenkins, Lina Todd

Rated PG-13, 93 minutes

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