Police say otherwise, but scientist Smilla Jaspersen (Julia Ormond) thinks her young neighbor was chased by an adult before he fell to his death. An Inuit who spent her childhood in Greenland, Smilla learns that the boys father died while working for Dr. Andreas Tork (Richard Harris) in Greenland. After sharing her murder theory with an increasingly mysterious friend called The Mechanic (Gabriel Byrne), she heads back to Greenland in the hope of finding a link between the deaths.
Smillas Sense of Snow (released in the United Kingdom under the original novel title) is a 1997 Danish thriller film directed by Bille August and starring Julia Ormond, Gabriel Byrne, and Richard Harris. Based on the 1992 novel Miss Smillas Feeling for Snow (original Danish title: Froken Smillas fornemmelse for sne) by Danish author Peter Hoeg, the film is about a transplanted Greenlander, Smilla Jasperson, 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.
Scenes from the film were shot in Copenhagen, Kiruna and western Greenland. The film was entered into the 47th Berlin International Film Festival, where director Bille August was nominated for the Golden Bear.
Smilla Jaspersen, half Danish, half Greenlander, attempts to understand the death of a small boy who falls from the roof of her apartment building.
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 Jasperson, 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 neighbor, 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 boys 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 Smillas 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 childs death was an accident. Unconvinced, Smilla files a complaint with the District Attorney. She goes to Lagermanns home seeking more information, and he reveals he discovered a puncture wound on the boys 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 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 husbands accidental death in Greenland. Detective Ravn from the District Attorneys office comes to Smillas apartment and agrees to look into the case, but Smilla discovers he is involved with Tork, the CEO of Greenland Mining. Smilla tracks down the companys former accountant Elsa Lubing, who directs her to the Expedition Report in the company archives. She breaks in, locates the report, and is surprised by her neighbor, the mechanic, who has followed her and now offers his help. They return to his apartment where she shares what shes discovered.
At the District Attorneys 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 Isaiahs mother that her husband died from something in the melt water, she continues her investigation. Smilla meets with her father, Moritz Jasperson to ask for his help in understanding the Expedition Report. Her father agrees to look into it, and later he 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 persons vital organs causes toxic shock and death.
At the apartment complex, Smilla discovers a cassette tape hidden behind the wall near Isaiahs 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 Isaiahs father talking to his son. The audio expert is soon murdered, and Smilla barely escapes with her life. Later Smilla and the mechanic follow their pursuers to a ship, which Tork is preparing for another Greenland excursion.
At the Casino Copenhagen, the mechanics 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 Torks 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 mechanics 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 Torks men, but she is rescued by the mechanic/agent. Wounded from the exchange, Tork runs from the cave and out across the ice. The mechanic/agent sets off a powerful bomb that destroys the cave in a massive explosion. 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.
The film was shot largely in Germany, Denmark, Greenland, and Sweden. Locations include Bavaria Film Studios, Munich, Germany (studio), Copenhagen, Denmark, Hotel DAngleterre, Copenhagen, Denmark, Ilulissat, Greenland, Kiruna, Norrbottens lan, Sweden, and Ata, Greenland
Smillas 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, "Smillas 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 cameras many beautiful close-ups of Smilla cogitating on crime."
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 doesnt matter in a movie nearly as much as mood, tone and style. Smillas 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."
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."
The Rotten Tomatoes web site reports that the film received an aggregate 52% positive rating from critics (based on 33 reviews).1997 Berlin International Film Festival - Golden Berlin Bear Nomination (Bille August)