Snow Cake

| December 10, 2006

A demonstratively afflicted character acts as manna for the hungry performer, and that appeal can often drag him or her into some flagrant displays of a type of emotional pornography, the performance nothing more than a meretricious collection of tics and mannerisms. I’m happy to report that in the case of this very affecting chamber piece Sigourney Weaver brings her customary fierce intelligence and commanding presence to her role as Linda, the high-functioning autistic mother of a young woman killed in a car accident, avoiding the pitfalls of easy sentiment and superficiality in a deftly shaded performance. She fearlessly (and honestly) digs deep to reveal what is both fascinating and infuriating in individual attempt to interact with her world-she’s not a saint, nor the repository of childlike purity and innocence. Involvement with Linda is not easy, and most times greatly frustrating, but there are a host of unexpected joys to be had for perseverance and loyalty.
In what becomes a tender dance, Weaver is beautifully balanced with Alan Rickman as Alex, a reserved British man with clear secrets and grief of his own-and a man with a direct relation to the tragedy of Weaver’s daughter. Difficult and closed-off (his opening gesture is to wholly reject someone’s gregarious company), nursing some profound personal wounds, he nevertheless journeys to Weaver’s home to inform her of her daughter’s passing, and agrees to stay on through the planning of the funeral. The reasons for doing so may have to do with an enduring prick of conscience, but it becomes clear that the delivery of the child back to parent may have a redemptive feature for Alex.
I don’t want to sound absolutely soppy, but director Evans and his cast quietly (and with plain poetry) suggest the idea of grace at work in the world, and work very carefully not to use Linda as a mere device to awaken the consciousness of a stricken, lost man. Weaver refuses to play her as an abstraction -Linda stands tall and demands to be seen and heard in a complex human glory. Despite a great tragedy, the universe conspires beyond any personal endeavour to bring together certain individuals at a time beneficial to everyone’s long-term prospects.
This tactic extends even to a neighbour of Weaver’s, who structurally is mostly a cliché and shortcut (an impossibly alluring, available woman to tweak Alex’s romantic fancy), but as played finely by Carrie-Anne Moss, and with a no-nonsense adult astringency, tears right through any lack of credibility. Her interplay with Rickman is a master class of wariness and evasion, borne of age and experience. The sense of conventional development is continually undercut by surprising open-ended conclusions, people allowed their thorniness and thresholds.
Whereas the filmmaking has the occasional soft-headed and flabby lapse, never do the performances. So much of what could easily collapse the film into insufferable rubbish (the reflex exists directly in the fundamental material) is held in check by the rigor of the acting. Weaver may not have the breakthrough that would satisfy the sentiment, yet her steadiness and acceptance of Rickman’s continued presence in her studied and ordered house speaks volumes. The degree to which Rickman has re-engaged with life (and how much Linda has come to mean to him) is expressed with simple beauty in a gentle gift he leaves for Linda, an immaterial package that nonetheless holds enormous value and excitement for Linda-and a clear indication that he has listened to her very closest thoughts. And Moss, in honor of Rickman’s commitment and decency, forges on with the small tasks that ease Linda’s days, with no need for acknowledgement.
Delicate, gentle, and with abundant wry humor, and with a highly-evolved acceptance of limitations (of people, circumstance, and life), Evans and cast craft a tranquilly haunting, autumnal mood piece.

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