Title: Snow In Paradise
Director: Andrew Hulme
Major Players: Frederick Schmidt, Martin Askew, David Spinx
Out Of Five: 3
Loyalty to a family member means a failed wannabe boxer is the errand boy for a criminal gang. His turning point comes when his actions cause the murder of his friend. He’s presented with a chance for redemption through religion but first he has to prove he’s severed those destructive family ties for good.
Heard that one before? I’ve no idea if Andrew Hulme had it in mind when he directed and co-wrote his first film, but it’s the story line of one of the classics from the second half of the twentieth century. On The Waterfront. It’s also essentially the plot of Hulme’s Snow In Paradise.
Admittedly, the location is decidedly more British – multi-cultural Hoxton – the relative is his uncle, the gangsters are drug dealers and the religion is Islam, but the parallels are most definitely there. Dave (Frederick Schmidt) never made it as a boxer and is now mixed up the drug dealing business run by his Uncle Jimmy (Martin Askew, who also co-wrote the screenplay). But Dave doesn’t play by the rules and that causes the death of his friend Tariq (Aymen Hamdouchi). His efforts to blot out his guilt with drink and drugs lead him to the mosque where Tariq worshipped and where he discovers a chance to change his life for good. See what I mean?
It’s one of several especially grim looks at the London criminal underworld – Hyena opens next month – but at least there’s a sense of hope at the end, with Dave moving towards some sort of personal peace. That comes through Islam, with mosque worker Amjad (Ashley Chin) as its main mouthpiece. It’s a positive view of the religion, with the interior of the mosque full of bright light and cleansing water, in contrast to the general grubbiness and greyness of the outside world. Even the building’s gleaming dome is never far from the screen, as it dominates the local landscape.
The film takes too long to tell its story, lingering unnecessarily over certain scenes, and just generally taking more time than it needs to, so most of the suspense it aims to create fizzles out disappointingly. It’s ironic, given Hulme’s background in editing. But where he does score is in making good use of our imagination. We never actually see what happened to Tariq, only discovering along with Dave that his friend’s phone is inside a suitcase he’s delivering for his Uncle Jimmy. The rest is up to us – and Dave. And that’s far worse than anything we could see on screen. Strangely, though, even though Tariq’s mother is constantly calling her son, there’s never any sign of anybody looking for him. One of his friends asks a stoned and drunken Dave if he’s seen Tariq but wishes he’d never opened his mouth. And that’s it.
The film’s other big plus points are the central performances. Frederick Schmidt is especially strong as Dave at his lowest moments, while Martin Askew’s Uncle Jimmy personifies the gentrification of the area – slickly turned out but with a decidedly dark underside. The familiar face in the cast is David Spinx, one time EastEnder layabout Keith Miller, as an old friend of Dave’s father and Uncle Jimmy’s main rival. Despite presenting himself as being all about “deals and sunshine” he’s just as big a villain in his own way.
Given its downbeat tone and grim subject matter, releasing Snow In Paradise alongside the usual Valentine’s Day clutch of romantic films is a strange choice – unless, of course, you’re looking for an antidote. You won’t find any romance here. Nor will you find a great film, as it’s no On The Waterfront or anywhere near a classic. But you will find some decent performances and a refreshingly sympathetic view of one of the world’s major religions.
Snow In Paradise opens in selected UK cinemas and on demand on Friday, 13 February.