Smilla's Sense of Snow (film)

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Smilla's Sense of Snow
Theatrical release poster
Directed byBille August
Produced by
Screenplay byAnn Biderman
Based onMiss Smilla's Feeling for Snow
by Peter Høeg
Music by
CinematographyJörgen Persson
Edited byJanus Billeskov Jansen [da]
Distributed by
Release date
  • 12 February 1997 (1997-02-12) (Germany)
  • 28 February 1997 (1997-02-28) (Denmark, Sweden)
Running time
121 minutes[1]
  • Denmark
  • Germany
  • Sweden
  • English
  • Greenlandic
Budget$35 million
Box office$2.4 million (USA)

Smilla's Sense of Snow is a 1997 German-Danish-Swedish mystery thriller film directed by Bille August and starring Julia Ormond, Gabriel Byrne, and Richard Harris. Based on the 1992 novel Miss Smilla's Feeling for Snow (this was also the title of the UK release of the film) by Danish author Peter Høeg, the film is about a transplanted Greenlander, Smilla Jaspersen, who investigates the mysterious death of a small Inuit boy who lived in her housing complex in Copenhagen. Suspecting wrongdoing, Smilla uncovers a trail of clues leading towards a secretive corporation that has made several mysterious expeditions to Greenland.[2]

Scenes from the film were shot in Copenhagen, Kiruna and western Greenland.[3] The film was entered into the 47th Berlin International Film Festival,[4] where director Bille August was nominated for the Golden Bear.


In 1859, a meteorite streaks across the sky and crashes into the Gela Alta glacier in western Greenland, causing a massive explosion that kills an Inuit fisherman.

In present-day Copenhagen, Smilla Jaspersen, a transplanted Greenlander, is studying ice crystals at a university lab. An Arctic ice specialist, Smilla is uncredentialed and unemployed with a troubled past. She returns to her apartment complex to find the body of her neighbour, Isaiah Christiansen, a six-year-old Inuit boy, lying dead in the snow. The police tell her the boy was playing on the roof and fell. On the roof Smilla sees the boy's footprints in the snow and suspects foul play. The pattern of the footprints reveal someone running straight to the edge of the roof. Knowing the boy was terrified of heights, she suspects he was running away from someone.

At the morgue Smilla meets Dr. Lagermann. Seeing the body, Smilla remembers her friendship with the boy—reading to him, bathing him, taking him to the zoo. Her love for this neglected son of an alcoholic mother had given meaning to Smilla's lonely life. She is surprised to learn that Dr. Johannes Loyen, a prominent professor, performed the autopsy. The next day, she visits Loyen, who states the child's death was an accident. Unconvinced, Smilla files a complaint with the District Attorney. She goes to Lagermann's home seeking more information, and he reveals he discovered a puncture wound on the boy's thigh made by a biopsy needle after his death. He also reveals that Loyen was examining the boy every month.

At the funeral, Smilla notices Dr. Andreas Tork, the CEO of Greenland Mining, trying to give money to the grieving mother who rejects it in anger; earlier she was also offered a pension from Greenland Mining following her husband's accidental death in Greenland. Detective Ravn from the District Attorney's office comes to Smilla's apartment and agrees to look into the case, but Smilla discovers he is involved with Tork. Smilla tracks down the company's former accountant Elsa Lübing, who directs her to the Expedition Report in the company archives, and lends her a key to the building. She climbs in, locates the report, and is surprised by her neighbour, the mechanic, who has followed her and now offers his help. They return to his apartment where she shares what she's discovered.

At the District Attorney's office, Ravn threatens Smilla with imprisonment—something Greenlanders find particularly stressful—for stealing Greenland Mining property. She agrees to suspend her investigation, but after learning from Isaiah's mother that her husband died from something in the melt water, she continues her investigation. Smilla meets with her father, Moritz Jaspersen to ask for his help in understanding the Expedition Report. Her father agrees to look into it.

At the apartment complex, Smilla discovers a cassette tape hidden behind the wall near Isaiah's old hiding spot beneath a stairwell. Unable to understand the audio, she takes the tape to an audio expert who cleans it up enough to reveal Isaiah's father talking to his son. The audio expert is soon murdered, and Smilla barely escapes with her life. She's picked up by the mechanic. Later Smilla and the mechanic follow their pursuers to a ship, which Tork is preparing for another Greenland excursion.

Smilla's father shows her medical x-rays of Greenland Mining accident victims that reveal the presence of a lethal prehistoric "Arctic worm" thought to be long extinct. He explains how the presence of these worms inside a person's vital organs causes toxic shock and death.

At the Casino Copenhagen, the mechanic's friend, casino owner Birgo Lander, provides Smilla information about the ship and points out its captain, a heavy gambler who is in debt to him. Lander agrees to help her get aboard the ship as an employee. Once on board, Smilla meets Nils Jakkelsen, who helps her discover videotapes revealing the truth about the Greenland operation—the discovery of an energy-producing meteorite that Tork believes will give his company a dominant position in the world. As the ship cuts through the dense Arctic ice packs, Smilla is chased throughout the ship by Tork's men. After Nils is killed, Smilla is helped by the mechanic, who secretly followed her aboard. He reveals he works for the government and was assigned to investigate Greenland Mining.

As the ship approaches the shore, Smilla leaves the ship following the mechanic's instructions and makes her way across the frozen landscape. She discovers the entrance to the Greenland Mining ice cave, where the company is doing research on the meteorite that fell in 1859. Inside the cave she is captured by Tork's men, but she is rescued by the mechanic/agent and a turncoat employee (who dies in a shootout). Wounded from the exchange, Tork runs from the cave and out across the ice. Following a struggle with Prof. Loyen (who falls back into the icy pool containing the meteorite and instantly freezes to death), The mechanic/agent sets off a powerful bomb that destroys the cave in a massive explosion (entombing Prof. Loyen and Tork's cohorts). The resulting waves move the ice beneath Tork, who falls and drowns in the freezing water. Smilla gazes out over the seemingly endless landscape of ice and snow—the land of her childhood.[5]



The film was shot largely in Germany, Denmark, Greenland, and Sweden. Locations include Bavaria Film Studios, Munich, Germany (studio), Copenhagen, Denmark, Hotel D'Angleterre, Copenhagen, Denmark, Ilulissat, Greenland, Kiruna, Norrbottens län, Sweden,[3] and Ata, Greenland[6]


Critical response[edit]

Smilla's Sense of Snow received mixed reviews, with most of the negative reviews focused on the unrealistic ending. In her review in The New York Times, Janet Maslin wrote, "Smilla's Sense of Snow begins grippingly, then devolves into ever less credible derring-do as the action turns Smilla from a self-styled detective into an adventurer. The story finally leaves credibility behind as it sails off to the frozen north. The film has an elegant Smilla in Julia Ormond, whose remoteness works better here than it has in other roles. Ms. Ormond plays Smilla in the chic, alert, unsmiling fashion of a French film star, and she richly rewards the camera's many beautiful close-ups of Smilla cogitating on crime."[7]

In his review in the Chicago Sun-Times, Roger Ebert gave the film three stars. Despite the implausible ending, he found that the movie worked, writing, "Here is a movie so absorbing, so atmospheric, so suspenseful and so dumb, that it proves my point: The subject matter doesn't matter in a movie nearly as much as mood, tone and style. Smilla's Sense of Snow is a superbly made film with one of the goofiest plots in many moons. Nothing in the final 30 minutes can possibly be taken seriously, and yet the movie works. Even the ending works, sort of, because the film has built up so much momentum."[8]

In her review in the Las Vegas Review-Journal, Carol Cling wrote, "Fascinating setting and strong performances make up for the far-fetched plotting." In his review in the Flipside Movie Emporium, Rob Vaux wrote, "An underrated and effective thriller, buoyed by a fine performance from Julia Ormond." In his review in the Capital Times (Madison, WI), Rob Thomas wrote, "An atmospheric and enjoyably preposterous mystery." And in her review in Movie Mom at Yahoo! Movies, Nell Minow wrote, "The idiotic ending seems to belong to another movie."[9]

The Rotten Tomatoes web site reports that the film received an aggregate 52% positive rating from critics (based on 33 reviews).[9]

Awards and nominations[edit]


  1. ^ "SMILLA'S FEELING FOR SNOW (15)". British Board of Film Classification. 30 June 1997. Retrieved 11 January 2015.
  2. ^ "Smilla's Sense of Snow". Internet Movie Database. Retrieved 22 January 2012.
  3. ^ a b "Filming locations for Smilla's Sense of Snow". Internet Movie Database. Retrieved 26 January 2012.
  4. ^ "Berlinale: 1997 Programme". Berlinale. Retrieved 12 January 2012.
  5. ^ Bille August (Director) (1996). Smilla's Sense of Snow (DVD). New York City: 20th Century Fox.
  6. ^ O'Carroll, Etain (2005). Greenland and the Arctic. Lonely Planet. p. 179. ISBN 978-1-74059-095-2.
  7. ^ Maslin, Janet (28 February 1997). "Smilla's Sense of Snow". The New York Times. Retrieved 22 January 2012.
  8. ^ Ebert, Roger (14 March 1997). "Smilla's Sense of Snow". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved 22 January 2012.
  9. ^ a b "Smilla's Sense of Snow". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 22 January 2012.

External links[edit]