Drifting Snow Review: Landscapes of Loss

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I especially know the Drifting snow team for their documentary work. Director Ryan Noth has a respectable job in documentary as an editor, producer and director of shorts, series and anthology films. Frequently collaborating with Tess Girard, Drifting snowproducer and cinematographer, Noth’s has delivered visually striking and thoughtful work in projects like The road to Webequie, Crime on the farm, A tomb with a view, and The national parks project, to name a few. Drifting snow illustrates a keen sense of realism and a keen sense of the power of a landscape. The dark and striking film is a poetic and meditative drama with a beautiful performance at its core.

Drifting snowSonja Smits’ great achievement comes from Sonja Smits, who is making a welcome return to feature films. (She’s been very active on television for the past decade.) Smits is about a woman awakened from a long winter nap. Her character, Joanne, adjusts to living alone in Prince Edward County following the death of her husband, John (Colin Mochrie). The beautiful scenery of Ontario’s wine country seems terribly desolate when one spends winter nights alone. The cold of the routine sets in as Joanne makes the movements to make her pottery and take care of her chores.

A cold winter night sees Joanne colliding with Chris (Jonas Bonnetta), a 30-something in the county. Chris is back home to take care of his mother’s estate and deal with a waning vision. His uneven vision, combined with the slippery patches of black ice on the country roads, brings a fateful encounter.

Windy roads and foggy patches

Joanne and Chris react to their accident in the most Canadian way possible: they help each other. She accompanies him to Ottawa because his car cannot make the trip because of the bump. Along the way, the story comes and goes. The winding road guides them both through hazy spots of memory and the fly of their memories of each other to make sense of blind spots in their path.

Flashbacks watch as Chris tries to get into a media startup and struggles with his personal connections. He questions the urban / rural divide as life in the county tempts him. Maniacally-paced reunions with motor-mouthed Torontonians inject a whiff of condescension of bog smoke (and, apparently, disdain for wind power) into Chris’s journey. His (ex?) Girlfriend (Jess Salgueiro) is worried about life in the county because you can’t cross the street and buy a lawyer. His (annoying!) Sister (Rachel Bonnetta) is an unhealthy presence in his memories that he needs to reconcile. Likewise, Joanne revisits days with John, solo cross-country ski hikes, and trips through the county’s winding, hilly roads. She too seeks peace, serenity and comfort with her place in the world.

At the crossroads

As the past and present weave throughout the journey, Drifting snow puts its travelers at a crossroads. Smits shines in a thoughtful, introspective performance that suits the contemplative style of the film. The interaction between the past and the present evokes shifts in consciousness. There is a visible awakening in Joanne as she shakes her memories and takes root in the present. Bonnetta, who also made the soundtrack for the film, made a respectable dramatic debut. He seems more comfortable with Smits and scenes that favor silence, but less comfortable exchanging frantic dialogue with over-caffeinated Torontonians. The film’s silence suggests that this is the actor’s artfully intuitive take on the character’s relationship to county air.

Noth and Girard make effective use of the freshness of the winter landscape, reflecting the isolation and sorrow the two riders face. Evocative aerial views give a great feeling of calm and serenity in these landscapes of loss: this is a film about slowing down and taking root. Melancholy fields and snow-filled highways surprisingly don’t lend themselves to Drifting snow an essential coldness. Much like the cold in Canada, grief is simply something you learn to live with. It comes by drifts.

Drifting snow is now available on VOD.

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