Will It Snow for Christmas? Review

In the French countryside, a woman (Dominique Reymond) lives on a farm. She is kept there by the farm owner (Daniel Duval), who lives with his “real” family but has fathered her seven children, aged from teens to infancy. As the seasons pass, the woman struggles to keep her family together...

Will It Snow for Christmas? (Y'aura t'il de la neige à Noël?) is a remarkable first feature from Sandrine Veysset, who was in her late twenties when it was made. It's more remarkable still in that it's not just a first feature, but Veysset's first film of any kind as a director. Although Veysset did grow up on a farm in the Montpellier area (where the film was shot), and Will It Snow for Christmas? is dedicated to her mother, she insists the film isn't autobiographical.

The film pulls in two ways at once. It's very detailed of the whys and wherefores of living in a rural community, of the sheer hard work involved in not only running a farm but also bringing up a large family. In this, it harks back to a naturalistic strain in French cinema and literature, not forgetting Italian-style neo-realism, though it's out of the ordinary in centering on a woman who is also a mother. While the principal cast were established actors before and since (Daniel Duval died in 2013), they weren't at the time at all well known, and the children were all non-professionals, chosen from about four hundred at auditions. On the other hand, the film has a universal quality, taking it away from specifics of time and place. We never learn the mother and father's given names, and it's not entirely clear when the film is set – a few details hint at the Seventies, possibly, which was also the decade of the director's (born 1967) childhood. And, even though it was a likely period piece in any case, the passing of two decades since the film's original release have made it one in another sense, in that this is a world with no mobile phones and no Internet.

Shooting in Super 16mm, Veysset and her cinematographer Hélène Louvart change the look of the film according to which of the three seasons (roughly a third of the running time each) we are in. Summer is bright, with vibrant colours, especially the reds of tomatoes, radishes, clothing. As we move into autumn, the colours are muted, and muted still further as winter comes, a look achieved via a bleach bypass process. As well as the traditions mentioned above, Veysset also draws on silent cinema, iris-ing out of one key scene.

Towards the end of the film, the mother tells her children a story, one they've clearly heard before but enjoy hearing again. She had a dream in which God pitted her in a race against another woman, which she lost. Her punishment for losing was to bear seven children. Yet, quite without sentimentality, Veysset shows us that they are as much her reward as her punishment. We learn little of her past, but at one point she mentions that she grew up in an orphanage, so maybe she is keen that her own children won't lack for a parental figure. Yes, behind the warmth is a despair too, which comes to a head now and again, such as when the mother realises that the father harbours inappropriate desires for his eldest daughter. At the very end, on Christmas Eve, when the question in the film's title is answered in the affirmative, the film closes on a moment of grace.

The BFI's release of Will It Snow for Christmas? is dual-format, and a check disc of the Blu-ray (Region B) was received for review. The film has a 12 certificate. This release is part of Woman with a Movie Camera, the BFI's ongoing programme celebrating women's contribution to cinema.

The Blu-ray transfer is in the original ratio of 1.66:1 and is derived from a 4K restoration from the original negative. The changing colour palette of the film, as described above, is well rendered, and is much as I remember from seeing this film in a cinema twenty years ago. Given that the film was shot in 16mm, you can expect grain, and you get it, but it's natural and film-like. The film was released in cinemas with a Dolby Stereo soundtrack, and that's the basis of the Blu-ray soundtrack, which is in a choice of DTS-HD MA 5.1 and LPCM Surround (2.0). There's little to choose between the two soundtracks, especially given that there's almost no lower end to speak of, so the .1 makes no difference. Both are clear and well-balanced. English subtitles are optional.

The two main disc extras date from 2015 and are both interview featurettes. The first, “Tout en liberté!” (30:50), features Sandrine Veysset and Hélène Louvart. Veysset talks about how she came to make the film. She broke into the industry as a set designer on Leos Carax's Les amants du Pont-Neuf. Carax encouraged her to write, and Will It Snow for Christmas? was the result. It took four years to be made, finally happening due to producer Humbert Balsan, who encouraged her and raised the small budget. Louvart's contributions are more technical: she talks about creating the look of the film. The bleach bypass process used in the film's autumn and winter sequences caused problems with processing, despite having been tested beforehand, almost wrecking certain sequences completely.

Dominique Reymond appears at the end of this interview, and she takes centre stage in “Terre-Mère-Amour” (15:27),l talking about her experiences in making the film. In particular her own experiences of motherhood – she had just given birth when she was offered the role – informed her playing of the character. She also says that Daniel Duval's good looks were key to his casting, giving a reason why her character is still attracted to him to some extent despite his actions. Finally, there is a trailer (1:39) – not the original theatrical one, as it ends with advertisements for the film's availability (in France) on disc and video on demand.

The BFI's booklet runs to twenty pages, and features two essays by Jonathan Romney. “A Winter's Tale” is his discussion of the film, it's making and its techniques. He also contributes a two-page biography of Sandrine Veysset. Of her five features to date, Will It Snow for Christmas? is the only one so far to have British distribution. The booklet continues with Jane Clarke's Sight & Sound review from the November 1997 issue. This carries a spoiler warning, as it refers to a late scene in the film which Romney doesn't detail and I haven't either. The booklet also contains credits for the film, stills, notes and credits for the extras, and transfer notes.

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A woman struggles to survive with her seven children in Sandrine Veysset's remarkable first feature, released in dual format by the BFI.


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