Before Snowfall

Before Snowfall


Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

Hisham Zaman's accomplished debut feature - which won the Dragon Award at Gothenburg Film Festival - is, at heart, a coming-of-age story but it also shines a light on illegal migration, Europe's forgotten illegal underclass and the concept of honour killings. These issues are built impressively into the framework of the screenplay written by Zaman and Kjell Ola Dahl, so that they prompt the viewer to think about them without overwhelming the central narrative concerning Siyar (Taher Abdullah Taher) and his cross-European odyssey.

Beginning with a shocking scene, showing 16-year-old Siyar being coated in cling film and lowered into the tank of an oil lorry - we quickly learn that he is leaving his family's Kurdistan home to chase down his runaway sister Nermin (Bahar Ozen). The plan, however, is not to bring her back to the bosom of her family - but to kill her as retribution for the shame she has brought on them by absconding with the man she loves rather than going through with marriage to the family's preferred suitor. The first stop on his journey is Istanbul, where the westernised attutides come as a huge culture shock and his attempts to find an tall man with a beard prove understandably difficult - but he is urged on by phonecalls from the village elders back home and a desire to become the man of the house in the wake of his father's death.

After an encounter with street thief Evin (Suzan Ilir), who though dressed as boy turns out to be a girl, the pair strike up an unusual friendship. And as their bond deepens and they head north together in search of Nermin and a piece of Evin's past, Siyar finds himself torn between loyalty to his feisty new companion, who thinks his urge to see his sister is purely benign, and the patriarchal traditions he has been steeped in all his life.

Neither Taher or Ilir are professional actors, which lends their performances a raw edge. Taher has a dogged attitude that suits his character perfectly, pensive in close up and often shot against the landscape by Zaman to emphasise his insignificance. Ilir meanwhile provides an opposing sparkiness that makes their growing friendship feel believable.

Zaman, who was born in Iraq but now lives in Oslo, has presumably experienced the east/west culture clash first-hand and it shines through his film. He is not looking to rush to judgement of his characters but to explore what makes them tick and give a feel for how traditions get passed down the generations. The task Siyar is set may be grimmer than most and specific to his village and culture but the concept of parents trying to mould us in their image and rebellion against that is a universal one. Despite the ranging journey undertaken by Siyar and Evin, the film is on one level all about being trapped by tradition and social strata - and Zaman's portrait of the disregard of the west for its underclass is also powerful. Meanwhile his will-he-won't-he plot keeps things taut to the last. Before Snowfall's complexity and non-judgemental approach mark Zaman out as a director to watch.

Reviewed on: 17 Jun 2013
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A youngster from Kurdistan tracks his sister across Europe after she flees before her wedding.

Director: Hisham Zaman

Writer: Kjell Ola Dahl, Hisham Zaman

Starring: Billey Demirtas, Eva Medusa Gühne, Suzan Ilir, Nazmi Kirik, Jin Musa, Bahar Ozen, Volga Sorgu, Abdullah Taher, Mohammed Tejir, Birol Ünel

Year: 2013

Runtime: 105 minutes

Country: Norway, Germany, Iraq

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