"Snow Cake" A Treat

Often funny and ultimately uplifting, "Snow Cake" is far more entertaining than its plot would imply. The story is about the relationship between an ex-con who, through a twist of fate, finds himself in a small town taking care of a highly functioning autistic woman — and having an affair with her neighbor.

The film opens against the backdrop of a snowy highway as Alex Hughes (Alan Rickman), a grumpy ex-con who doesn't like to talk much, begins a road trip to Winnipeg. At a roadside restaurant, he meets Vivienne Freeman (Emily Hampshire), a quirky teen who has selected Alex as the safest choice for a free ride home to the small town of Wawa, Ontario.

Alex begrudgingly agrees to take her, but warns "you better get out when I've had enough." Gregarious Vivienne has just started to get Alex to crack a smile, but she is killed when they're hit by a truck just outside of Wawa.

Although it's not his fault, Alex goes to apologize to Vivienne's mother, Linda Freeman (Sigourney Weaver), a high-functioning, very verbal autistic woman. She handles the news matter-of-factly and insists Alex stay with her, help plan the funeral and do Vivienne's chores.

Linda's straightforward view of the world, unencumbered by the emotions and conventions of supposedly "normal" people, has a healing affect on Alex.

Alex also falls into a relationship with Linda's sophisticated single neighbor Maggie, gently played by Carrie-Ann Moss. Maggie doesn't demand much of Alex and is able to coax him into opening up about his past.

Weaver captures Linda's honest view of the world — as pure, and clean as the fresh-fallen snow she loves so much.

Weaver, with the help of Angela Pell's thoughtful and witty script, plays Linda as a strong and independent soul who happens to be autistic.

In one scene, Alex finds Linda in the backyard, joyfully rolling around in the snow. She tells Alex that Vivienne once described an orgasm to her, which she thinks "sounds like an inferior version of what I feel when I have a mouthful of snow."

Pell, whose own son is autistic (and loves to eat snow), doesn't let the script succumb to the gimmickry that so often accompanies films about behavioral disorders. Linda doesn't have any unusual talents, she isn't taken out of her environment to experience the "real" world, and she's not miraculously cured at the end.

The role of Alex was written with Rickman in mind, so it's no surprise that he's perfect for it. He plays Alex with subtlety, using gesture or expression to portray his character's emotional reawakening.

Rickman is also quite funny in a dry, British sort of way. He and Weaver have some great comic moments together, highlighted by a Scrabble game played according to Linda's unique rules.

Weaver and Rickman have worked together before, in the 1999 sci-fi comedy "Galaxy Quest." It was Rickman who suggested Weaver for the role of Linda.

The movie was shot in the actual town of Wawa, which is by the shores of Lake Superior. A giant Canada goose sculpture that's the town's landmark, the nature murals on the restaurant walls, and Linda's cardigan sweater embroidered with birds and trees which Alex wears give the film an authentic North Woods charm.

"Snow Cake" was directed by Marc Evans and premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival. It was also screened at this year's Berlin Film Festival and Hong Kong Film Festival A commercial release date has not been set.