All things considered, it’s an appropriate time of year to talk about snow. While some people think that snow is beautiful and almost a permanent fixture in cold places like Canada, it’s actually incredibly transitory: much like Toronto and, in particular, Queen Street West.
I found Benjamin Rivers’ graphic novel Snow at Bento Miso two years after I moved away from Toronto: which is funny in some ways because Rivers created it in 2008 when I first moved onto York University Campus and, technically, to Toronto. But I didn’t know it at the time. I didn’t, for instance, know that in February 2008 that Queen and Bathurst (which was referenced by Rivers) and that — among other stores — there had been another Suspect Video that no longer exists. But even before that I’d explored Toronto in a limited way and knew about the Silver Snail in that location.
But I didn’t know impermanent it was until I moved to Toronto and then truly explored it — especially Spadina and Queen — only to have to move. So it was fitting that I read Benjamin Rivers’ book and found out about Ryan Couldrey’s close film adaptation of it when I came back to Toronto on my own: to see if I could find some place in it again. Snow as a graphic novel truly hit me hard in that sense of nostalgia and Toronto’s ever-hidden, ever-fleeting spirit and this film managed to capture exactly the same idea.
On the surface, Snow‘s narrative focuses on Dana: a young woman who lives on Queen Street West and works at a small book store called Abberline’s. She is quiet and she likes to have her comfort and the homegrown quality of Toronto’s neighbourhood, stores, and clubs. But she begins to notice the gentrification of the street — the rise in rent and the influx of people from upper-classes — and the many closed and empty stores. Her sense of equilibrium and habit is being impinged upon. And she also notices that the bubble of self-involvement, which she herself has possessed — that covers all of denizens of her locale is growing.
Dana’s bubble ends up getting stretched to its limits as she actually actively begins to question why all of this is happening. And then it gets strained past its safe limits as she encounters a darker place. Couldrey manages to maintain the tone and pacing of Rivers’ comics narrative. There is no spectacle here, or supernatural happenings. The menace is subtle and very real and in the midst of Dana trying to make sense of a senseless situation: from human violence to slow and civil death, her own quiet determination and personal goals come to the fore.
I like how Couldrey managed to cast Snow’s other characters as well: from Dana’s friend Julia to her co-worker Chen and her boss and “city dad” Abberline himself. You get a major sense that in the backdrop of this changing city that these people all genuinely care about each other. Couldrey maintains the black and white aesthetic of Snow from the graphic novel onto the film. It has a sense of age and funkiness that captures parts of Toronto well. I really liked how, in one scene where Dana and Julia were talking — with Julia separated from Dana in Dana’s kitchen — how Couldrey managed to capture the cosiness of some Torontonian apartments against the transitory gritty nature of the outside city as well as, in this particular case, simulate a comics panel.
And it is all realistic: just like the graphic novel there is no romance, no major action, or anything. There is just tragedy, fear, friendship, life, and moving on. It also goes without saying that if Toronto itself is a character, and in particular Queen Street West then from my experience Couldrey managed to capture that spirit well.
It’s interesting to note that in edition to being a comics creator, Benjamin Rivers is also a video game developer and isn’t that just like the nature of snow? To spread from one place to another when the climate is just right: in this case from comics, to games, and to film? And Couldrey and his team shot this film without any grants or loans: just on their own budget. It’s just something that Queen Street West itself might have appreciated in its more bohemian and independently artistic days.
Toronto is an interesting city. It’s a place that is old and still developing, that has layers of different interactions, and landmarks that get erased under a literal and figurative blank canvass of snow. That said, even the thickest level of snow leaves footprints: just this film ends on perhaps a little bit of hope. Amy Lavender Harris in her book Imagining Toronto once said that Toronto suffers from a form of amnesia: from a loss of memory. Yet perhaps, at least one small part of Queen Street West knows itself. At least one small part can remember, and dream beyond winter.
But don’t just take my word on any of this. You can watch the entire film online for free and if you are interested, you can buy the entire VOD package — which includes the video, the graphic novel, the soundtrack, scripts, and video game at the Snow website.