Thursday, March 19, 2020
Mati Diop | Snow Canon
don’t ever fall in love
by Douglas Messerli
Mati Diop and Judith Lou Lévy (screenplay) Mati Diop (director) Snow Canon / 2011
Senegalese/French filmmaker Mati Diop’s 2011 film Snow Canon is not about a French Alps avalanche exactly, but it might well be just such a statement of a psychological condition for the young woman who suddenly has been visited by an Los Angeles-based au pair who has evidently been asked to care for the young adolescent Vanina (Nilaya Bal), who has apparently been left behind as her parents attend a funeral—we never discover for whom—which she has refused to attend.
As a young teenager, she is interested primarily in her on-line boyfriends, posting teen angst about the male friends she is encountering on-line, as well as the temporary male caretaker, Simon, who enters her home to watch over her while she awaits for the US “babysitter.” He is handsome, dark-haired and clearly interested in the young Vanina, but remains at a some-what distance, while still clearly interested in her young sexuality, gently stroking her leg while still refusing to allow her a cigarette. Thank heaven he is not an abuser.
When we finally see Vanina’s babysitter, Mary Jane (Nour Mobarak) we realize that the innocent and sweet, slightly demonic Vanima (she intrudes upon her sitter’s cellphone) is about to experience another world.
It starts as a series of complete innocence, the new nanny trying to remain apart, while still caring for her new charge, while, obviously suffering her own trauma through telephonic conversations, with her apparently own lesbian relationship with her resistant lover. Their love is falling apart, and, as a result, Mary Jane almost literally falls into a kind of drunken-nervous reaction, relying on her young charge to care for her.
Vanina suddenly comes alive with her new responsibility, bathing the quite drunken babysitter and joining her in the sauna in what we can only imagine is a lesbian interlude. This young woman, on the edge of adolescent sexuality, is introduced, incredibly, but amazingly in Diop’s short film, into a new trajectory in her own sexual perception. Her imaginary boyfriend relationships on-line are suddenly transformed into a kind of lesbian perception, in which she immediately must recognize as a world she might never before have imagined.
Diop’s films have tended to represent alternative worlds, imaginative spaces where her characters might have perceived themselves to have previously encountered. They exist in worlds that are utterly transitory. And the story of Vanina and Mary Jane represents just such a situation, a strange French Alpine space where the characters visit deep underground caves, filmed in purple and bluish colors that signify their own alienation from the frosty and forestry environment in which in which they are existing.
The dialogue of this film is tri-cornered into French (Diop’s native language), English, and computerese, forcing us, as do many of her films, to shift quickly through various dialogues into and out of our own dedicated linguistics, just as we need to shift in and out of our sexual distinctions and perceptions. Location is not real but cinematically created. We are in and outside of our own perceived sexual locations.
This is not, particularly, a lesbian film, but a work which demands that we question and wonder about our own sexual awakenings.
At 15 or 16, while babysitting (a vocation I participated in activity in those days), a young boy, coming of age at 12 or 13—a child far more sexually aware than I was—quite literally seduced me, permitting my first sexual masturbation. I should have known better, but I was, alas, more innocent than the boy which I had been hired to care for that night.
Diop’s profound film presents just such a situation, the babysitter entranced by the sweet-demonic child she is attempting to care for. Sex is never easy or predictable. It’s simply what happens, as Diop’s short film reveals. The two kisses quite significantly as they leave one another, obviously realizing that this was an important experience in their lives, with committing to the sexualities they had uncovered within themselves. Mary Jane even warns her young charge “Don’t ever fall in love,” while clearly having fallen in love with her the child she has been asked to care for. Vanina will, perhaps, return to her on-line boyfriends; Mary Jane will maybe encounter a new friend. But as in Luca Guadagnino's Call Me By Your Name, this movie seemed a moving possibility for a future possibility of sexuality, despite its more correctly sexual encounter—the young boy in this film was conveniently of the proper age.
Diop’s film says it all. You can’t imagine when such an encounter might occur, and you won’t ever comprehend its consequences.
Los Angeles, March 19, 2020
Reprinted from World Cinema Review (March 2020).