It’s funny how much of an effect location has on narrative. If this were an American film, First Snow would undoubtedly be the next Martin Lawrence comedy. It’s all there – the amiable but immature father of three finds himself in over his head when he promises to take the family on a skiing holiday. It would come with all the predictable pratfalls, potty humour, sexism and double standards you’d expect. And you’d probably not want to see it. (I realise I’ve just alienated any of our readers who are Martin Lawrence fans, but where’s the fun in film reviewing if you have to be polite all the time?)
First Snow features pretty much all of the above (excepting the toilet humour, thankfully) yet the fact that the film is set in France means that there are some subtleties that make the film interesting. First of all, the issue of racism comes up. Jean-Gabriel Elisabethz (writer/director/star Lucien Jean-Baptiste) comes from Caribbean stock. When any of the Elisabethzs inform someone that they’re going skiing, they’re met with derision – skiing’s apparently something that only white people do. This is something that never would have occurred to me, yet perhaps the economic and social divide between the ethnicities in France means that only white French can be found on the Alps. Questions of identity come up too and whilst they may seem rather inarticulately put (Jean-Gabriel’s daughter Manon (Loreyna Columbo) wishes her hair wasn’t so ‘frizzy’), they’re addressed with such honest simplicity that one can’t help but feel for the characters.
Don’t get me wrong – this isn’t a hard-hitting feature that confronts racism head-on. Rather, it’s an upbeat family comedy that tries to impart some wisdom on any impressionable young minds that may be watching. At the same time, there are stereotypes on show here (Jean-Gabriel’s large, overbearing, God-fearing mother (Firmine Richard) being one of them) but I suppose we should be thankful that each character is played by a different actor, as opposed to seeing multiple Eddie Murphies.
It may seem unfair to think of First Snow in terms of what it could have been if created on the other side of the Atlantic, but the narrative is simply so Hollywood that one can’t escape the comparison. The difference is in the little things – it still falls victim to the most obvious traps (apparently there’s nothing funnier than seeing an overweight grandma on an out of control sled) but at the same time its rather straightforward intentions are pure.
The cast are lovable, and in fact Jean-Gabriel’s wife Suzy (Anne Consigny) probably comes off the worst – as the sensible, nagging and ‘frustratingly’ mature partner. First Snow is a pleasant enough family drama even if it doesn’t attempt to push the boundaries of the genre.Rating: