Snow -- Film Review

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TUNIS, Tunisia -- Tragedy hangs over a small Bosnian village like a looming winter storm in "Snow," a soberly restrained drama concerning a group of women eking out a hardscrabble existence in the rural hills while trying to come to terms with their burdens of grief following a national convulsion of war and ethnic cleansing.

Winner of the 2008 Cannes Film Festival's Critics Week grand prize, co-writer and director Aida Begic's slight debut feature seems unlikely to establish much reach beyond the international festival circuit, although a DVD release could garner a somewhat broader audience.

In 1997 post-civil war Bosnia, the Muslim village of Slavno struggles on, decimated by an internecine conflict that's killed the majority of the hamlet's men, whose bodies have never been found. Among the predominantly female inhabitants remaining, young widow Alma (Zana Marjanovic) and her neighbors attempt to earn a living by processing and selling fruit preserves, but the absence of any customers does not bode well for their enterprise.
However, when a handsome truck driver (Muhamed Hadzovic) accidentally crashes into Alma's roadside jam stand and then gives her a ride home -- offering to return later and buy up the remainder of the preserves -- hope for better times puts a glimmer in her frequently downcast eyes.

Shortly afterward, the ominous arrival of a Serb businessman (Jasmin Jelco) representing outside interests determined to buy up land for a government development project soon sets the women at odds with one another over the fate of their village. Alma and her mother-in-law oppose the purchase plan. The Serb's familiarity with the fate of some of the village men introduces a hint of retribution into their interactions, as tensions mount between villagers and the developers.

Although the film's ensemble performances are clearly heartfelt, particularly Marjanovic's as the youthful widow gradually emerging from a pall of grief, the oblique dialogue, confusing character relationships and obscured social history suffusing Begic and co-writer Elma Tataragic's script provide insufficient guidance for most of the cast to break free from a cocoon of inarticulateness.

The narrative torpor is somewhat alleviated by an observational visual style that reveals interesting details of the women's lives, as Begic's measured pacing offers an insightful perspective on this almost exclusively feminine domain pervaded by ongoing mourning.

While "Snow" may ultimately not attract wide appeal, Begic shows genuine promise as a filmmaker and should eventually find her way to more emphatic storytelling.

Venue: Tunis International Film Festival

Production companies: Mamafilm, Rohfilm, Les Films de l'Apres-Midi
Cast: Zana Marjanovic, Jasna Ornela Bery, Sadzida Setic, Vesna Masic, Muhamed Hadzovic, Jasmin Jelco, Emir Hadzihafizbegovic
Director: Aida Begic
Screenwriters: Aida Begic, Elma Tataragic
Producers: Elma Tataragic, Benny Drechsel, Karsten Stoeter, Francois d'Artemare
Director of photography: Erol Zubcevic
Production designer: Vedran Hrustanovic
Music: Igor Camo
Editor: Miralem S. Zubcevic
Sales: Pyramide International
No Rating, 99 minutes
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