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1 item from 1997

Film review: 'Smilla's Sense of Snow'

14 February 1997 | The Hollywood Reporter | See recent The Hollywood Reporter news »

Besides some good ice photography, the strong point of "Smilla's Sense of Snow" is an articulate, self-confident and intellectually demanding woman character who is proud to be herself, no matter how unhappy.

And it will take a solid, women-oriented marketing effort to make "Smilla" work in the United States, where it is distributed by Fox Searchlight Pictures. The oddball thriller about Smilla (Julia Ormond), a tough, lonely woman investigating the death of a young boy in Denmark and the Arctic, suffers from an indecisive script and misplaced casting and ends up being a product that one can easily sit through but not necessarily recommend.

Smilla is a displaced Greenlander living in Denmark who comes home one day to find that a neighbor boy, Isaiah, also a Greenlander and Smilla's only friend, has been pushed from a roof and killed. A mathematics whiz and natural-born pathfinder, coming as she does from the icy wastes of Greenland, Smilla immediately begins to sleuth around. And what starts out as a simple whodunit ends up with an almost James Bond-like flashy conclusion.

But what happens in between is less drama than going through the motions: Smilla is carried from clue to clue until she finds the murderer. She discovers nothing that might turn her investigation in another direction or otherwise change her life.

And whenever she is put into any serious danger, a mysterious neighbor (played by Gabriel Byrne) pops up and helps her out. In the end, he proves that the trust and love she puts in him are well-invested: He saves her life, eliminates the bad guys and effectively takes over from her during the climax of the story so that it is not quite clear why she has had to come along in the first place. He could have come home and told her all about it anyway.

The good news about Ormond, who wears little makeup and still makes an impression, is that she surprisingly dominates the screen. The bad news is that she makes Smilla look less like an outcast Greenland snow-tracker than a big-eyed French actress.

But what the character suffers most from is the writing; too many lines are wooden, and though screenwriter Ann Biderman is obviously counting on Smilla's charm as an outsider underdog, the audience is not given a reason in the beginning to really like her.

Byrne is miscast as the mysterious neighbor -- he acts like his character in "The Usual Suspects", and the audience always knows that he has something better to do elsewhere.

Vanessa Redgrave is good but expendable as a clue-giver and Richard Harris, who plays the evil scientist bent on getting rich at any price, is given no good lines to squander his talent on. Robert Loggia as Smilla's rich failure of a father is a big exception; he fits perfectly and obviously feels good in his part.

Producer Bernd Eichinger ("The Name of the Rose") is sometimes called Germany's only important producer, and this will add to his reputation of being able to put together an international cast from Munich.

Director Bille August, in his second collaboration with Eichinger after "The House of the Spirits", is able, but not inspired, though most of the action takes place in his native Copenhagen.

The film is based on Danish writer Peter Hoeg's novel, which was acclaimed among American murder mystery fans and a best seller in Europe, but fans will not like the changes made for the screen.


Constantin Film presents

a Bernd Eichinger production

of a Bille August film

Producers:Bernd Eichinger, Martin Moszkowicz

Director:Bille August

Screenplay:Ann Biderman

Based on the novel by:Peter Hoeg

Director of photography:Jorgen Persson

Music:Harry Gregson-William, Hans Zimmer

Production designer:Anna Asp

Editor:Janus Billeskov Jansen

Costumes:Barbara Baum


Julia Ormond:Smilla Jasperson

Gabriel Byrne:Mechanic

Richard Harris:Tork

Vanessa Redgrave:Elsa Lubing

Robert Loggia:Moritz

Jim Broadbent:Lagermann

Mario Adorf:Lukas

Running time --121 minutes


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