«Les contenus psychologiques de la neige tendent vers le silence…»
– Gilbert Durand
“Images of snow may evoke barren, frozen landscapes; a long winter in which nothing may grow, and the stalled temporality of hibernation, a prolonged sleep, akin to death.” As Richard Combs writes of the film’s interludes, they are filled with “snow, or something like particles of nothingness falling in darkness (…) little deaths anticipating the big death the film was trying to approach”. As Resnais himself said, “snow is something which we think we can grab hold of but, no, it’s impossible. Like the mercury which fascinated me in my father’s pharmacy. Something impalpable, elusive”. Matthieu Guillot perceives in its stanzas “an oppressive snow which conquers the whole world, so strongly present that it seems to have been there for all time, and everywhere”. Guillot describes snow’s extinguishing power which “anaesthetises (…) proving itself capable of paralysing willpower or thought, until it annihilates all rationality”. The year 1878 sees the birth of the International Cloud Atlas, psychoanalysis, X-ray technology, and cinema… The year 1878 also marks the first historical record of the snow globe in Paris; and in 1900, Erwin Perzy of Vienna begins to mass-produce and distribute an enhanced reproduction of miniature and glass-contained snowfall. In 1900 – Alice Guy directed “Danse des saisons: L’Hiver, danse de la neige” or “Dance of the Seasons: Winter, Snow Dance.” A dancer under visibly artificial snow drifts down from the ceiling. Cinematic snow falls quietly, accumulating in its fragility and evoking cinema’s ephemerality and visibility. When we see the snow, we briefly enjoy privileged access to this frenzied condition of weather, memory and death. Many years before, in 1808, Claude Debussy composes “Coin des Enfants” or “Children’s Corner”, which includes “The Snow is Dancing”, a piece in which he evokes the falling snowflakes. The piece is dedicated to his daughter, Chouchou. “A ma chère petite Chouchou, avec les tendres excuses de son Père pour ce qui va suivre.” – Claude Debussy. What people usually don’t want to know is that it’s already possible to get twin snowflakes. A professor of physics at the California Institute of Technology has shown the world that it is possible to create two identical snowflakes. He invested everything he had pursuing this goal. Ukichiro Nakaya (中谷 宇吉郎) was a Japanese physicist and scientist. He is credited with making the first artificial snowflakes in 1936. From 1933, Nakaya observed natural snow and created 3,000 photographic plates of snow crystals, classifying them. In the course of these observations, taking photographs of natural snow and sorting them by appearance according to weather conditions, Nakaya felt the need to make artificial snow from ice crystals grown in the laboratory. Contrary to his initial expectations, creating snow crystals was not an easy task – instead of forming into snowflakes, the ice crystals grew like caterpillars on the cotton string he used for nucleation. As a child in 1577, Johannes Kepler witnessed The Great Comet, as did every astronomer across Europe. “To imagine an individual soul in each and any starlet of snow is utterly absurd, and therefore the shapes of snowflakes can by no means be deduced from the operation of a soul in the same way as in plants.” – Johannes Kepler (1611) Not many years before, in 1895, the German biologist, Ernst Haeckel wrote “Crystal Souls: Studies on Inorganic Life” establishing the concept of “soul-snow”. Some of “The Riddle of the Universe” reappears in “Crystal Souls”. “In religious thermodynamics, soul snow is crystallized soul, hypothesized to exist, if the soul, being of corporeal substance, is a type or form of gas that can be liquefied, using high pressure methods.” Haeckel coined the term “molethyn” based on Johannes Kepler’s theory of the “The six-cornered snowflake” and his explanation of their shapes in terms of the packing of atoms. This led Haeckel to describe the unknown directional forces, which for him, are active. He saw snow everywhere. In 1934, Conrad Aiken wrote a short story. “Silent Snow, Secret Snow”. The story tells of a boy named Paul Hasleman, who finds it increasingly difficult to pay attention to his classwork, and grows more distant from his family. He is, instead, becoming more and more entranced by daydreaming about snow. This began when he was lying in bed one morning, awaiting the approach of the postman. Unable to hear the expected footfalls, the boy imagines that they have been muffled by newly fallen snow, and is surprised when he looks out the window and discovers that there is no snow on the ground. Paul’s increasing distance and indifference to the world around him alarms his parents. He has to struggle to get dressed and converse with others, because of the allure of his daydream about snow. “I hope that those who have understood all that has been said in this treatise will, in future, see nothing in the clouds whose cause they cannot easily understand, nor anything which gives them any reason to marvel.” – Descartes. Similar to Descartes’ undoing of mystery through meteorological refinement, the Audubon Society Field Guide claims that “there is no magic in interpreting such conditions. Once you know that the moon’s halo, for example, results from the refraction of light through tiny ice crystals in the upper atmosphere, then you are on firm ground in deducing that the clouds above are cold enough to generate snow.” In 1611, Johannes Kepler, composed a short pamphlet entitled “A New Year’s Gift of Hexagonal Snow”, for his friend and some-time patron, Baron Wackher von Wackhenfels. “Yes, I know that especially you love nothingness; however certainly not because of its slight value but rather much more because of the joyful and charming games, which one can, with lively jest, play with this word. It is easy for me to fancy that a present for you is all the more desirable and welcome the closer it approaches nothingness.” “Remember the snow at the end of “It’s a Wonderful Life”: Might as well be a more family-history reminiscence, “remember the snow of whatever year”. In 1948, André Bazin wrote an essay, “Il neige sur le cinéma” or “It snows on the cinema” that addresses the presence of snow on film. Bazin suggests that the enveloping whiteness of snow was destined to be represented on the cinema screen and, despite the efforts of poets to capture its seemingly infinite yet paradoxically transient blankness and froideur, “snow found only a minor and incomplete homage in the literary arts. It was up to the cinema to reveal fully its secrets, to make its mysteries perceptible”. Matthieu Guillot addresses snow as the visualisation of “absolute immobility,” asking “is there anything more definitively, but also more desperately silent than a large stretch of countryside, all covered in snow?”. Guillot describes the breathtaking, yet oppressive sensation of watching “whiteness take possession of everything, transforming without a sound the smallest element of nature, which was still shivering, and fixing it in absolute immobility”. In its own transient solidity, snow also represents the inevitable progression from life to death.