Dir. Uta Arning

When there is a multi-storied parking on the screen, the viewer has good reason to expect a car chase in the near future and almost certainly there will be a shoot-out. In the same way a lonely hotel or house spells imminent death at the hands of a murderer, an evil spirit or as a result of a suicide. Like in Hideo Nakata’s “Incite Mill”, a Japanese equivalent of “The Haunting” by Jan De Bont. Like in Govorukhin’s “Ten Little Indians”. Like in Kaneto Shindo’s “The Owl”, where a mother and a daughter, living in the only remaining house in the village, solved the problems of their life by taking the life of men, who chanced to come into their dwelling.

Viewers of the Moscow Festival might remember the dark musical comedy by Takashi Miike “Happiness of the Katakuris”. It dealt with a small family hotel which had been built at the site of the future highway, but the large-scale plans changed and the hotel was now standing in the middle of nowhere. That is why the owners heartily welcomed any chance customer. Things would not have been quite so bad if the visitors did not adopt the practice of dieing the very next morning.

“Snowchild” seems an ideal sequel to Miike’s film. This time the owner of the hotel expects her guests to part with their lives earlier, than with her. So she arranges everything accordingly: the rooms are gloomy, the meals are always the same, the railing on the veranda overlooking the precipice is not too high. Clients are wisely asked to pay in advance. The woman has even calculated the number of days it usually takes to carry out their intentions – two or three. But the essential element is the steep cliff with waves breaking at its foot. One look at it is sufficient to arouse suicidal thoughts. It is impossible not to jump from it, like from the notorious Beachy Head near Eastbourne in England.

It is only natural that the young German director Uta Arning decided to set her film about suicides in Japan. This way of ending one’s life is probably more popular here than anywhere else. At least this problem is openly talked about. Just remember the controversial “Suicide Club” by Shion Sono, where groups of schoolchildren held hands and merrily threw themselves under the wheels of an approaching train, jumped from castle walls or the roof of the school.

Lodgers of the Nameless Hotel (yes, that is what it is called) have better reasons to part with their lives, although their stories are incredibly trite: some one has been left by the loved one, some one has been deflowered, another one can’t complete a haiku and still another suffers from an unrealized sexual desire. People come here with the sole purpose of ending their lives quietly and elegantly. Guests are having breakfast, somewhere in the background a blurred figure appears in the window on the parapet and quietly disappears. No thud, no shout. No one would have noticed anything if an old lady had not uttered a cry. But immediately she acquired a businesslike air and started adding another point to the already monstrous figure in her notebook – 1908.
Given the seriousness of the topic, there are nevertheless quite a few grotesquely funny moments in the movie. The young psychoanalyst is using a teach-yourself book to get ready for her next telephone conversation with a potential suicide victim. The owner of the hotel usually has her artificial eyelashes glued at different heights on both eyes. Her son merrily installs photos of the lodgers, who have jumped from the cliff, on the wagons of his toy railroad.

It is heartwarming that in contrast to Sono or Miike, Uta Arning treats her characters with warmth and compassion. The hapless psychoanalyst sincerely cares for each of her “clients” and looks after her paralyzed father with touching faithfulness. The poet pushes the girl away form him no because he is heartless but because he understands that he is better suited to be her father than her lover. Even the owner of the hotel finally starts to see things clearly. But before it happened her own son had to jump from the parapet.

Maria Terakopian