More noise than signal

Snowman’s Land

This review has been ‘repurposed’ from my other site,

I am, like all good hearted people, a sucker for a pun in a film title, so this was naturally right up my alley.

Two scruffy German hitmen, Mickey (Thomas Wodianka) and Walter (Jurgen Rissmann), are contracted to head off into the snowy wilds of Eastern Europe on a mysterious assignment. On reaching the location they’re told to get to, they find it to be a nearly deserted, ageing hotel somewhere to the left of the middle of nowhere. The mysterious, near legendary hitman Berger (Reiner Schone) who has dragged them out here is nowhere to be seen, but his girlfriend Sibylle (Eva-Katrin Hermann), is still around. Well, when she’s not running the designer drug kitchen in the basement or off on the three day round trip that shopping entails from this remote locale.

Mickey and Walter don’t have a clue why they’re there, and matters are complex enough before Berger even shows up to give them their marching orders. Mickey takes it on himself to seduce Sibylle, however an accidental firearm discharge instead sees her very dead. Disposing of the body in the nick of time, Berger shows up with his hired goon/lieutenant Kazik (Walera Kanischtscheff) to tell them why their services have been retained.

Turns out Berger has plans to turn this area into an exclusive ski resort, hampered only by a small local population, the main growth industry of whom is in brigandry and highwayman-ism. They seem to be gathering forces to retake the hotel and restaurant that Berger has bought, and the current plan is to hold the forts for a few days until a small mercenary force appear to “clean up”. Of course, plans always change, especially given the disappearance of Sibylle.

Snowman’s Land might not be the defining dramatic work of our generation, but it’s a darn good yarn. The first half hour or so brings back memories of Takeshii Kitano’s Sonatine, at least in as much as it seems to revolve around a general theme of ‘gangsters on holiday’. When things get a little more serious it’s solidly constructed, and the characters are more than interesting enough to carry the narrative.

Given that all of the characters are various blends of contract killers, thugs and murderers, they aren’t particularly likeable in the traditional sense. Still, the early reels banter between Mickey and Walter shows a decent level of wit, and they manage to be just human enough to build some small degree of sympathy when things start to go badly for the pair, as it inevitably must.

This isn’t a tale of ultra-smooth criminal operators, and it’s better for it. Snowman’s Land also doesn’t plough down a particularly serious path either, shying away from exploring the morality of these people in favour of a more roustabout, comic style. The tone works far more often than it doesn’t, and there’s a good number of blackly comic laughs to be had in here.

Is it worth travelling to the snowbound middle of nowhere yourself to get a hold of? Well, perhaps not, but it’s a well crafted and entertaining film that deserves to find an audience. If you happen across it, I certainly recommend taking the time to see it.