(Poland 2020; Dir: Ania Morawiec)

Fading Snow

Stuck in the Pinball Machine

review by Bo Alfaro Decreton

Fading Snow

original title: Ostatnie Śniegi

length: 28

year of production: 2020

country of production: Poland

director: Ania Morawiec

production: Lodz Film School

director of photography: Tomasz Wierzbicki

music: Teoniki Rożynek

cast: Dominika Biernat, Jaśmina Polak, Mateusz Więcławek, Marianna Zydek, Małgorzata Witkowska, Arkadiusz Detmer, Irena Jun

festivals: Tampere Film Festival 2021, Vilnius Queer Festival 2021, Riga International Film Festival 2021, Leuven Short Film Festival 2021

© images: 'Fading Snow' (Ania Morawiec)

You know what, sometimes it seems to me we're living in a world that we fabricate for ourselves. We decide what's good and what isn't, we draw maps of meanings for ourselves... And then we spend our whole lives struggling with what we have invented for ourselves. The problem is that each of us has our own version of it, so people find it hard to understand each other.
(Olga Tokarczuk, Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead)

Is fading snow still snow…? Is it to be or… to be in balance? Maybe this is one of the most challenging questions of our troubled days. Heart-broken Mania is stuck between her intense job in the theatre, an empty house she does not want to go back to, in a manic city, in a disoriented country which is smothered by opinions and monumental propaganda. She feels trapped “like the ball in the pinball machine, bouncing on people’s emotions.” The hits are hard, the direction and duration of the twisted game uncertain.

In ‘Fading Snow’, Ania Morawiec’s first fiction short, it is soon quite clear that all is simply too much. The protagonist works as a stage manager in the city theatre where the words “I will take care of it” are the only accepted local currency. Like a bystander on the sidelines of her own life, she looks at the centre stage where all the action is happening: A mother is begging her dead son to come back to life. And although it is fake and everyone knows it is, this state of decadence seems to be the closest Mania can get to authenticity in this confused, conflicted, almost maddened city of Warsaw.

This makes her run off to a snowy landscape for a skinny dipping session in a frozen lake: an illustration of the extremes we have to reach in order to feel alive and to feel that we can have control over our condition. Morawiec creates an intense contrast between scenes in the city — where “being” ideally equals coping but more commonly equals faking — and scenes in nature — where “being” is just being, with all the rawness that comes with it.

But her leap into nature has a very ephemeral character to it. More than tagging along with her to this new space, it feels like we are being dragged into the head of this protagonist who wants to surrender herself, be it for a short timespan, to her daydreams but is still with her whole being in the stressful, overstimulating context of the city. Therefore, this leap never feels like an actual break because of Mania being stuck processing the multitude of impressions, thoughts and feelings that are connected to the recent past, which is marked by a break-up as the final straw that keeps both Mania and the spectator in its power.

By capturing us in the eye of the (snow) storm, we get a very confrontational approach to anxiety and the great loneliness that is connected to it. If you’re lucky enough, you are encouraged and supported to talk about it but at the same time words can seem more lacking than ever and the interpersonal distance of an abysmal nature. In the end, Mania (almost inevitably) opens up to a stranger, comforted by anonymity. By placing the weight of that consolation on a stranger who, coincidentally, is a person with hearing impairment, the film takes a very instrumental and symbolic turn that undercuts its otherwise sensitive approach. The same literalness is also present on other levels: the protagonist’s first name (implying that she “is” how she “feels”), and the sound design that often imitates a heart beat (or a ticking time bomb?). By over-emphasising the unison echo of the story throughout the film as a whole, Morawiec shows not only underestimation for her audience, but also for the sheer power of her own work. Tomasz Wierzbicki’s cinematography, on the contrary, follows the pace of Morawiec’s film meticulously.

The film is also reminiscent of Kate Nash’s song ‘Don’t You Want To Share the Guilt?’, in which she wonders rebelliously: “I don't know how more people haven't got mental health problems / Thinking is one of those stressful things I've ever come across / And not being able to articulate what I want to say drives me crazy. / Don’t you want to share the guilt?” Morawiec delivers quite a solid film that captures this very relatable permanent state of loss of control with harrowing precision.

As Mania tries to make her way through the city, she walks through marches for and anti abortion. There are messages and imperatives everywhere, but little option to dialogue. It is therefore close to impossible to talk about ‘Fading Snow’ untethered from its sociopolitical context. The fear that this main character feels reaches beyond her personal realm to touch upon the collective anguish of a tormented society, one that is not inclined to share in general — let alone sharing in guilt.

But there are answers to be found in the touches of the film’s absurdity, such as the previously mentioned unexpected emotional hospitality and kindness strangers can show once in a great while. They can also be found in the way in which Mania looks at the centre stage, which also says something about the creation of art itself: for wherever you see art, you also see the risk taken of perhaps failing.

And just as it is true of art, it is also true of love and life in general. Even though failure was the fate of Mania's relationship—and we get an insight into the difficult period that follows and the courage you need to find in order to get yourself back on your feet again—it was by no means the fate of Morawiec's film, but she showed the courage anyway and it’s exactly what makes ‘Fading Snow’ so remarkable.

It should not come as a surprise that we never see Mania actually returning home. A home of which she confesses she is afraid to return to, just to later correct herself: “I’d just like to go back home… but I want the light to be turned on… but not by me.” In the darkness of ‘Fading Snow’ there’s a light, and Morawiec did a praisable job leaving it on for us to find.