‘Black Snow’ (‘Nieve Negra’): Film Review

Courtesy of Pampa Films
Of Ice and Men.

Some of Argentina’s strongest acting talent is gathered in Martin Hodara’s Patagonia-set sibling rivalry thriller.

Making his solo directorial debut in Black Snow — back in 2000, he was assistant director on Fabian Bielinsky’s scam classic Nine Queens, and later co-helmed The Signal with Ricardo Darin — Martin Hodara can’t go too far wrong, since the film's cast features the charismatic likes of Darin, Leonardo Sbaraglia, Federico Luppi and Dolores Fonzi. But though it burns as slowly and intensely as a cabin log fire over its first hour, narrative confusion and implausibility strike over the final run, and it’s that wobbly final stretch that will linger in viewers’ minds, making Black Snow a less chilling experience than it presumably aims to be.

Marcos (Sbaraglia) and his pregnant Spanish wife Laura (Laia Costa) travel to a remote, snow-stormy location in Argentina’s Patagonia (though the film was actually largely shot in the Spanish Pyrenees). They are looking for Marcos’ long-lost brother Salvador (Darin), thought to have killed their younger brother in mysterious circumstances on a hunting trip 30 years before. Now Marcos wants to bury their father’s ashes and to execute his dying wish to see their land inheritance amicably settled between the brothers.

The problem is that the shaggy-bearded, trigger-happy Salvador, looking and behaving like someone who got lost on his way to The Revenant, is anything but amicable, refuses to surrender a single centimeter of the land and in fact seems to be bearing a grudge the size of a mountain against his brother. Laura looks on, unable to make sense of the tension between them as Marcos tries repeatedly, and oh-so-slowly, to break down Salvador’s curmudgeonly silences. Unsurprisingly, and as signaled by multiple flashbacks, it’s a dark event in the past that’s preventing Salvador from lightening up, an event that makes it pretty surprising that Marcos should have chosen to turn up at all.

"Wow, what a family," mutters family lawyer Sepia (Luppi, still terrific) in practically Black Snow’s only moment of humor, and he’s right — a convincingly rendered air of tragedy hangs over them. But despite all the acting talent on display — the cast is presumably largely responsible for Snow's major box-office impact back home — we’ve started to tire a little of them even before Sepia says this. We learn little about them, not even, say, what Marcos does for a job, because none of them talk very much, and when they do, it’s about the inheritance.

Salvador is monotonously grumpy, and yes, Darin would still be watchable if he sat in a corner and sulked for an hour — but unfortunately, that comes a little too close to what the character actually does here. Costa is as good as can be expected as the outsider Laura, but she is too passive and apathetic a character, given her situation, to engender much sympathy. Fonzi is effectively sidelined, doing a turn as the boys’ traumatized sister Sabrina, given a single scene to show her stuff.

The last 20 minutes are thick with first-timer errors. Events take place which characters can’t have known about, but they do; Marcos suddenly undergoes a 180-degree character shift, which Sbaraglia struggles to handle; there’s an unprepared-for discovery; and the shock factor is given priority over credibility.

Full use is made by lenser Arnau Valls Colomer of the striking mountain backdrops, as aerial shots swoop and soar over snowy pines. There are too many flashbacks, and they give too much away, but the transitions into them are elegantly seamless.

Production companies: Pampa Films, Gloria Mundi Producciones, Bowfinger, A Contracorriente Films
Cast: Leonardo Sbaraglia, Ricardo Darin, Laia Costa, Dolores Fonzi, Federico Luppi, Andres Herrera
Director: Martin Hodara
Screenwriters: Leonel D’Agostino, Martin Hodara
Producers: Juan Pablo Buscarini, Axel Kuschevatzky, Adolfo Blanco, Pablo Bossi, Maria Luisa Gutierrez
Director of photography: Arnau Valls Colomer
Production designers: Marcela Bazzano, Josep Rosell
Costume designer: Sonia Grande, Marcela Vilarino
Editor: Alejandro Carrillo Penovi
Composer: Zacarias M. de Riva
Sales: FilmSharks

87 minutes