HURRAH for a sympathetic account of Islam; for that is what the
new film Snow in Paradise (Cert. 18) gives us - not that
it's a propaganda piece. As far as I can tell, the director/writer
Andrew Hulme is not a Muslim. He describes his film as a character
piece hidden within the structure of a thriller.
Dave, played by Frederick Schmidt, is ensnared within the
criminal element, alongside his mate Tariq (Aymen Hamdouchi), in
Hoxton, in the East End of London. The first noteworthy thing about
the plot is that white and Asian youths are best friends. Also it's
true because the Dave of the story is based on the life of Martin
Askew. He plays Uncle Jimmy in the film, and co-wrote the
What starts out as a rather typical gangster film - all heavies,
drugs, and ominous soundtrack - persuasively segues into a quest
for meaningful existence. Dave (who's nominally C of E) begins his
spiritual journey when stumbling upon a mosque while looking for
Tariq. He learns there that the true meaning of jihad is
to struggle, particularly within oneself, which is exactly what
Dave has been doing throughout the picture.
Dave is in some kind of Faustian pact with a family of
wrongdoers, stretching back generations. He pushes cocaine (snow)
until, ultimately, he discover paradise at the mosque. The turning
point comes for Dave, as it did for Askew, with the guilt and
responsibility he experiences for the subsequent death of Tariq. He
teeters on the edge of a nervous breakdown before finding a reason
While there are several such crime films about life-changing
conversions to Christianity (The Cross and the
Switchblade, 21 Grams, etc.), Islam is rarely offered
to Western audiences as an alternative peaceful ideology to that of
violence. It is more likely to be viewed with suspicion and
animosity. As such, it has become the religion of marginalised
people, partly explaining its appeal to rootless characters
aspiring towards stability.
It is a familiar scenario in crime thrillers, of course, for a
man hankering after going straight to be confronted with his past.
Former associates come knocking, de- manding his services. The
twist here is that it is someone's budding faith that is about to
be sorely tried.
Snow in Paradise constantly juxtaposes the rules
undoubtedly governing criminal life with those of religion. They
employ a few similar means - loyalty, strong senses of right and
wrong, etc. - but to achieve quite different ends. Islam happens,
in this narrative, to be the faith that gives Dave a new moral
compass, but it isn't hard to see Christianity or some other faith
providing an equivalent.
Whether the film succeeds in convincing us that religion is all
that it takes to change a villain's ingrained behaviour is a moot
point. The constant use of flashbacks and flash-forwards serves
only to confuse the issue. The film's saving grace is its
cinematography, which unmistakably places villainy in the shadows,
while portraying scenes at the mosque in an ineffable, almost
On general release.