Despite the Falling Snow (2015)

  • Time: 113 min
  • Genre: Drama | Mystery | Romance
  • Director: Shamim Sarif
  • Cast: Rebecca Ferguson, Charles Dance, Sam Reid


In 1950s Moscow, communist Katya secretly spies for the Americans in the Cold War arms race. When she lands her biggest assignment, stealing secrets from rising government star Alexander, the last thing she expects is to fall in love with him. Reconciling her passion for him with her beliefs about communism means making the greatest sacrifice – of her life – a sacrifice that Alexander only uncovers thirty years later.

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  • Sometimes a glorious presence can make a film worth watching. Take Despite the Falling Snow, a romantic spy drama directed by Shamim Sarif, who adapted it from her novel. It borders on the trifling, its execution a touch above the commonplace, its narrative on the cumbersome side. But it stars Rebecca Ferguson, the Swedish actress who broke through as double agent Ilsa Faust in last summer’s Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation.

    Ferguson portrays another mysterious and seductive woman with a hidden agenda, this one named Katya, in the film. The time is 1959, the place is Moscow. Katya is an anti-Communist spy working for the Americans, who finds herself genuinely falling for her latest mark, an ascending government employee by the name of Alexander (Sam Reid). He is hopelessly in love with her and his kindness complicates her inevitable betrayal as does her loyalty to fellow spy Misha (Oliver Jackson-Cohen), himself not lacking in affection for Katya.

    The film recalls Casablanca and Notorious, two films irradiated by Ingrid Bergman as women torn between love and duty. Bergman was a Swede and, while not all actresses, Swedish or otherwise, possess her unique mix of luminescence, relatability, and sheer womanliness, Ferguson certainly comes closest. Like Bergman, Ferguson possesses a clarity of being that suffuses her with a warmth that’s damn near irresistible. One can understand how Alexander’s heart must have permanently surrendered at the sight of her swaying ever so slightly to the music playing during the party in which they not so accidentally cross paths. One can understand even more why he would be convinced to betray his country by considering a defection and why, 30 years later, the enigma of what happened to the woman he left behind still haunts him.

    Ferguson delivers a mightily assured performance as Katya, her face slowly shadowed by pain and unease. Reid manages to be an affecting romantic lead and inject dimension into an anaemically-written role. If Sarif had solely focused on the pair, Despite the Falling Snow might have been an admirably old-fashioned romance. Unfortunately, there is another timeline in play, one which takes place in 1992 and involves the quest of Katya’s niece Lauren (also played by Ferguson) to uncover the mystery of what happened to Katya.

    This later timeline is plagued with problems, starting with the distracting wig Ferguson wears as Lauren. Then there’s Lauren’s romance with political reporter Marina (Antje Traue), whose motivations for helping Lauren are immediately suspect. Sarif is not the most subtle of directors, but her handling of the later timeline is appalling – twists blare their arrival, reveals are practically in plain sight. The back and forth between timelines may have worked on the page, but they simply do not on the screen, at least not in the manner presented by Sarif. Part of the problem is the lack of screen time afforded to the elder Alexander (Charles Dance). As welcome as it is to double the use of Ferguson, it is really the elder Alexander who should anchor this timeline instead of being shunted to the periphery. It dilutes the impact of the overall story and underuses both Dance and Anthony Head, who at least gets one good moment as the older Misha.

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