White Snow, Black Comedy



What is it that makes snow-set films so appealing? The whited-out spaces that give images a purity of design? The emptiness that conjures the spirit of old westerns? The cinematography that puts figures in vast landscapes?

‘Prize Idiot’ probably wasn’t the best title for a movie, so this new Scandi-noir starring Stellan Skarsgard has been retitled ‘In Order Of Disappearance’ for international audiences, and it catches the right tone of white snow and black comedy from the outset. Skarsgard’s job is to keep the roads open, driving a vast snowblower back and forth over inundated roads. As a transplanted Norwegian immigrant he’s a model citizen and an ideal future political candidate. But when his baggage-handler son is picked off by drug importers, he sets about taken revenge in the most basic way possible, by simply removing and disposing of everyone in the chain of command one by one. And after each kill, an RIP for that character appears on the screen.

It’s not formulaic, though. His route to the top of complicated by other factors and there’s a jet black seam of deadpan humour running through the action, from the kingpin’s horribly decorated house (who’d have a drug dealer’s taste for decor?) to the banter of both cops and gangsters arguing about everything from ‘Top Gun’ to the welfare system in Portugal. And many tiny details humanise the characters, like the gangster who’s unsure whether he’s allowed to sit on his boss’s white leather armchair.

Meanwhile the villains drop like flies as Skarsgard heads toward the unkillable No.1 man, and the cops are really only around to comment drily from the sidelines. The women don’t get much of a look-in; I wanted to know more about Skarsgard’s wife, but there are good scenes with the dealer’s ex – nobody is happily married in this film, and there are moments of laugh-aloud genius.

If you like ‘Fargo’ or the Coen Brothers, this pretty much has your snow-print on it.

6 comments on “White Snow, Black Comedy”

  1. Dave S says:

    The cynic in me would say that the main appealing things are “minimal expenditure on set design; and the ability for any snowy bit of the World to stand-in for any other”.

  2. Roger says:

    What is it that makes snow-set films so appealing?”

    The thing that always infuriates me is the absence of vapour when people speak. I don’t know why, as it’s a trivial flaw really. On the other hand, a French film made just after the war, supposedly set in the summer but obviously made in the winter, where the characters’ breath steamed and they had goosepimples galore in their light clothes, rather amused me.

  3. Jackie H. says:

    A very memorable snow scene for me is the ending of Robert Altman’s McCabe and Mrs. Miller – the contrast between his icy death and her vitality and beauty, with Leonard Cohen’s “Travelling Lady” to make it all the more poignant. Also, The Shining!

  4. admin says:

    To lower the tone, try ‘Carry On Camping’, filmed in November with a visibly miserable and frozen cast, in a field they had to paint green…

  5. Roger says:

    Even with the bonus of the cast’s misery to appeal to my malevolent humour, I don’t think Carry on Camping would entertain me…

  6. Ken Mann says:

    Could it be film snobbery? A film projected onto a screen can handle white space in a way that a TV struggles to emulate, because the electronic screen is happier with black, so snowbound films will always look better in a cinema. Or maybe I just have a crap TV.

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