When Zenia (Alec Utgoff), a handsome masseur with an enigmatic smile, arrives at a wealthy gated community in Poland, he quickly gains a reputation among the depressed locals for his extraordinary — perhaps even magical — healing abilities. It doesn’t hurt that the majority of his clients are anguished women, and that Zenia’s warm, attentive touch purges them of their routine misery, if only for a little while.
From Edward Scissorhands to Peter Sellers in “Being There,” the curious outsider figures as a spiritual balm to their bourgeois malaise. In many ways, “Never Gonna Snow Again,” which the Polish filmmaker Małgorzata Szumowska co-directed with the cinematographer Michał Englert, follows suit.
Zenia, a Ukrainian migrant worker born exactly seven years before the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, is no otherworldly idiot — though the condescension he faces suggests his employers believe otherwise.
As Zenia becomes a community fixture, the lives of his alienated clients unfold in a series of vignettes, at turns bleakly somber, but also cheeky. We meet, among others, a housewife overwhelmed by her impudent children; an alcoholic woman obsessed with her three bulldogs; a bohemianesque widow whose creepy son manufactures synthetic drugs. Bored, they begin to lust after Zenia while dealing with their anxieties around class, climate change and Polish identity — issues that Szumowska and Englert subtly integrate, yet leave opaque.
From the sterile symmetry of the neighborhood, composed of lifeless McMansions, the film cuts away to glimmering images of a shadowy forest, moments of uncanny enchantment meant to visualize the sublime experience produced by Zenia’s hypnosis sessions.
Utgoff is irresistibly compelling, instilling in his character a silent yet singular presence worthy of the “superhero” status that he ultimately acquires. Yet Zenia, the flesh and bones human, emerges in fragments — a shimmying dance routine, a moonlit scooter ride with his security guard pal — indicating there’s much more here than meets the eye, if we could only truly see.
Never Gonna Snow Again
Not rated. In Polish, Russian, French and Vietnamese, with subtitles. Running time: 1 hour 53 minutes. In theaters.
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