Smilla's Sense of Snow
Cast: Smilla Jasperson (Julia Ormond), The Mechanic (Gabriel Byrne), Isaiah Christiansen (Clipper Miano), Dr. Lagermann (Jim Broadbent), Professor Loyen (Tom Wilkinson), Dr. Andreas Tork (Richard Harris), Moritz Jasperson (Robert Loggia)
Director: Bille August
Theatrical release: 01/00/1900
DVD Date: 05/21/2002
Running Time: 121 minutes
Note(s): The screenplay was adapted from the crime novel Smilla's Sense of Snow by Peter H๘eg, originally published in 1993 as Fr๘ken Smillas fornemmelse for sne.
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Review: Last month Picador published a new trade paperback edition of Peter H๘eg's 1992 crime novel Smilla's Sense of Snow, and though I haven't read the book I did know a film adaptation of it had been made in 1997, one I hadn't yet seen.
The film stars Julia Ormond as Smilla Jaspersen, a brilliant scientist known as an expert in all forms of snow but an exceptionally difficult person to be around. Hostile to her family and friends, she is nonetheless touched by Isaiah, a neglected 6-year-old boy living in her Copenhagen apartment building. One day she returns home to find the boy dead from a fall from the building's roof. She rushes to the snow-covered roof and concludes from the boy's footprints in the snow that he was frightened of something or someone so much so that he literally ran off the roof to his death. The police disagree, calling it a tragic accident, but when Smilla begins to probe into his death, she's met with resistance from every angle.
The first half of Smilla's Sense of Snow is very good, exceptionally good in fact, but the latter half is only so-so at best. There's a real sense of suspense and intrigue as Smilla realizes that the officials who examined the boy's body after he died are covering up something, but what she cannot imagine. After all, he was just a 6-year-old boy living a quiet life in Copenhagen, albeit neglected by his alcoholic mother, who cannot seem to deal with the death of her husband, the boy's father. He was killed on a mining operation in Greenland, which happens to be Smilla's homeland.
But it all starts to fall apart for me when Smilla becomes romantically involved with her unemployed neighbor, a man she doesn't trust and knows lies to her. I simply didn't buy into why such a smart, strong, fiercely independent, woman would suddenly fall head over heels in love with someone, apparently on the spur of the moment. At first I thought maybe she was playing him for information he seems to know something about the mining company the boy's father worked for but her affection is genuine, if ill-advised.
This thoughtful thriller then takes another odd step when Smilla starts doing other strange and dumb things that starting me asking the obvious "Why doesn't she just
"-type of questions. For example, if you suspect something happened to Isaiah's father during the mining operation, why not just hop a plane to Greenland instead of smuggling yourself on board a freighter bound for the country? The former is simpler, of course, but the latter puts Smilla in all sorts of danger, which makes for better visuals
even if it isn't logically sound. It's probably no coincidence that the plot gets increasingly silly at about this point as well.
Julia Ormond's performance is a bit uneven, possibly intentionally so, as she struggles with coming to terms with Isaiah's death. The other principals are OK in their roles, nothing special but nothing distracting either. Special note should be given to Clipper Miano, who plays Isaiah Christiansen; he is nothing short of brilliant here.
I would have liked this movie so much more even with its faults had the mystery plotline been a little more consistently credible. Even so, I enjoyed Smilla's Sense of Snow and do recommend it.
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