Film Review: Despite the Falling Snow

Despite its best intentions, Shamim Sarif’s Cold War spy melodrama wastes star Rebecca Ferguson’s talents and charisma.
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Among its many accomplishments, Christoper McQuarrie’s Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation set the stage for the (with any luck) stardom of Rebecca Ferguson, who had up until then been underserved in front of the camera. The prominence Rogue Nation brought to this brilliant Swedish actress was at such a height that many wished she would get her very own spy picture one of these days, free of the shadow of Ethan Hunt. Doubtless anyone had a drowsy and stale flick like Shamim Sarif’s Despite the Falling Snow in mind. This old-fashioned love story of a Russian spy and decades-brewing family secrets is no match for Ferguson’s talents and natural charisma. Still, she is by far the best thing in it, playing two separate roles across two eras.

For the record, the above is not a swipe at old-fashioned spy thrillers and love stories with a classical feel. Just a few short months ago, Robert Zemeckis’ Allied reminded us of the level of sophistication those types of films can still attain. Unfortunately, Sarif’s Despite the Falling Snow—which she adapted for the screen from her own novel—is bereft of a similar refinement. The images here are uninspired, the score is too on the nose and the two timelines are unevenly parsed.

One of those timelines follows Katya (Ferguson), a spy tasked by the Americans with collecting information from a dutiful Communist politician named Alex (Sam Reid) in Moscow of the late ‘50s and early ‘60s. In case you can’t predict what happens next, let me spoil it for you: Katya falls in love with Alex and confesses her ulterior motives to him, putting the now-married lovers in grave danger. The plot thickens when Alex has to flee Russia (the near-opening sequence is the film’s only decent nail-biter), leaving Katya behind. We then jump to early ‘90s—the film travels back and forth between the two eras—and meet a young woman named Lauren (Ferguson once again). We follow her as she passionately insists upon uncovering her family’s history despite the protestations of her uncooperative uncle Alex (played now by Charles Dance). Meanwhile, Lauren is also given a love interest in Antje Traue’s Marina. Their story serves little function and begs either to be enriched or removed.

When Lauren finally learns what happened to Katya, the revelation—despite being delivered with maximum seriousness and overemotional musical cues—is neither shocking nor profound. Sarif makes plenty of well-intended efforts to deliver a polished melodrama, yet Despite the Falling Snow never quite takes off. The chemistry between Katya and Alex, besides being virtually non-existent, it an unbelievable anchor for a love story that’s so rushed through. Consequently, what reason does the audience have to care about Lauren’s quest for the truth in the film’s weaker ‘90s-set segments? Despite the Falling Snow aims to tug at heartstrings but never delivers the promised poignancy.

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