In Before Snowfall we follow a 16-year-old boy, Siyar, who comes from a village in Iraqi-Kurdistan. His father has died, so Siyar is now the head of the family, responsible for seeing to it that his older sister, Nermin, is married off. She’s set up to be married to the son of a powerful family from a neighboring village, but the day before the wedding she elopes with another man from the village that she has fallen in love with. Now Siyar’s duty is clear: In order to restore his family honour, he needs to find her – and kill her.
So he follows her trail to Istanbul, where he doesn’t find her, but meets a street urchin dressed as a boy, who turns out to be a girl, called Evin, and the two develop feelings for each other. As Siyar discovers that his sister has fled to Europe, where Evin’s father also lives, the two are smuggled into Europe by way of Greece, ending up in Berlin. Ultimately, the hunt takes Siyar to Oslo, where he confronts his sister.
It is a well-crafted and absorbing story of Siyar’s gradual self-discovery, about the complexities of human relations and emotions, and the motivations behind culturally specific types of behaviour. The acting is impressively flawless, the various settings highly convincing, and the narrative in general is touching and engaging, without ever compromising its realism. Siyar learns what it is to love, and we also become intimately familiar with the tragic fates underlying the lives of most illegal immigrants, even though these particular characters are not fleeing from any special danger but simply trying to put their personal lives back in order. We see how there is a widespread network of people who keep track of where other people from their home villages are, and what they are up to. And of course how the elders and the elite pass judgment on those further down the hierarchy in order to keep them in line; keep the repressive social order intact.
The movie consists of multiple layers, and most of them lead to unhappy endings. However, the plot threads do not develop in the ways you might expect; the story circumnavigates most clichés, and end up showing that even though a few individuals may escape traditional institutions like arranged marriages, the entire culture of such repressive institutions still remains, and this is the real problem. What the movie accomplishes very effectively is that it leaves you with, at the end, a profound sadness on behalf of the women who have no opportunity to escape arranged marriages. These practices constitute a widespread misogyny that it must be the duty of all civilised people to fight.
Director: Hisham Zaman
Cast: Taher ABdullah Taher, Suzan Ilir, Bahar Özen, Nazmi Kirik and others.
Runtime: 105 min.
Country: Iraq / Germany / Norway