Snow In September


Reviewed by: Andrew Robertson

Snow In September
"As Davka, Sukhbat Munkhbaatar is adolescent perfection, all gangle and angle." | Photo: Courtesy of Venice Film Festival

They are teenage concerns, at first. Spoilers for a manga, the apportionment of what are perhaps sweet treats from a bowl. The ring of something crisp against the porcelain, a sharpness of tone that suggests a particular mouthfeel. As regimented and fixed as slack-jawed before the laptop.

Doorbell rings.

We've perhaps grounds for content warning from the off, discussion of that manga includes violence, sexual assault. That's lurid tales of murderers, read right to left. Snow In September is something subtler.

"Big sister" rings. Not actually, one of the many sets of layered honorifics that embed station and status. "Little brother", she asks, "Can I use the telephone?" She is locked out. She has been invited in. Few stories start with babies being cut from corpses. Far more start with an offer to cross a threshold.

"Am I frightening you?" is an apt question, and the answer is a lie. "Are you okay?" is much the same.

A measured, tense, thing. Each act a small two-hander. Between them moments of studied construction, something written on a chalkboard ending in milligrams, a moment of some first person shooter, a staircase made maze, an inverted sky.

Lkhagvadulam Purev-Ochir's film (written/directed) is anchored in a performance. As Davka, Sukhbat Munkhbaatar is adolescent perfection, all gangle and angle. A film of intimacies and awkwardness, but it is made of moments of discomfort. Ours particularly, his specifically. This may be a debut role, and it's a striking one, made in vulnerabilities that are also strengths. Glass can shatter, cut. Requires special care.

Set in Ulan Bataar, its landscape is an artificial one. High flats of Soviet style, regimented classrooms all blazer and formality. At the end though the eponymous weather, through a window. Maxence Dussere's score given reign, producing one of those moments that short film is perfect for, a moment for reflection and feeling as tight and satisfying as the right key to a lock.

Nomin-Erdene Ariunbyamba as Davka's friend Asuka, "La femme" Enkhgerel Baasanjav, mother Odgerel Bat-Orshikh. No accident in a reading where only one of the five women we see speaking has a name, where only three say enough to be credited.

There is a standing joke in Eye For Film towers that within every festival I (bluff, bearded, balding) will end up with a film about teenage girls coming of age. With three younger sisters I am not completely ignorant of the subject, though may in fact qualify for special blindnesses. It's a not infrequent topic for film because there is there a complexity, a negotiation of expectation, a set of rules unspoken around femininity that are enforced by patriarchal structures or reactions and defences to them. It's striking, pleasant even, to see a film like this that occupies (advisedly, given Mongolia's complex history) a similar space but from a male perspective. There are plenty of films where young men become so, but too often that maturity is about hard decisions, a bruising and damaging masculinity that is one of coldness. A reflection here that is about relationships, negotiation thereof, and while that's still not new territory it is crisply constructed, like a perfect blanket of fresh flakes. A perspective granted by coverage.

Amine Berrada's camera shows experience, a 40th credit by my reckoning, within a decade. That's not Eric Roberts territory but even in short film it's an indicator of talent, if what we see on screen wasn't sufficient in itself. This is Purev-Ochir's third film and it too is an indicator of her skills. For all that Davka is at the centre it is those around him who make him visible. To move from the climactic to the astronomic, his presence is defined by his effect on their orbits. That careful consideration makes this a film of gravity, weight.

Reviewed on: 30 Sep 2022
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Snow In September packshot
A violent event in a boy’s life subtly consumes him.

Director: Lkhagvadulam Purev-Ochir

Writer: Lkhagvadulam Purev-Ochir

Starring: Sukhbat Munkhbaatar, Nomin Erdene Ariunbyamba, Enkhgerel Baasjanav, Odgerel Bat-Orshikh

Year: 2022

Runtime: 20 minutes

Country: France, Mongolia


Venice 2022

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