Up until I sat myself down in the theater and the lights went out, I knew absolutely nothing about the plot or themes featuring in "The Ice Forest". It was programmed at the Brussels International Festival of Fantastic Films and I went to see it purely based on two factual aspects, namely a) it's an Italian movie and b) it has a uniquely grim setting high up in the snowy Alps. Based on the opening sequences already, however, it imminently becomes clear that this will become much more of a harrowing and intense drama rather than a thriller, because the film starts with a flashback to the year 1994 and illustrates how refugee families are cruelly separated on the Italian/Slovenian border. 20 years later, Pietro – an electrician expert – arrives in the little geographically isolated border town to look at the power plant that constantly causes blackouts, but he also seems to be on a mysterious personal quest for something as well. Another new face in town is that of the Slovenian female officer Lana. She allegedly follows the traces of an aggressive bear, but she's obviously something else entirely as well. I read in the festival's brochure that "The Ice Forest" is similar to the Coen Brothers' "Fargo". Well yes, in terms of weather conditions and perhaps geographical setting, but that's where the comparison stops, as this film's atmosphere is far more dark and depressing and the plot is more closed and mysterious. Director and co-writer Claudio Noce delivered a rather inaccessible and mentally demanding film, with an incredibly slow pacing, very few action sequences, convoluted as well as indifferent character drawings and a screenplay that doesn't reveal any clues until the climax. You can guess along about what's happening, of course, and certain elements are fairly transparent, but the film refuses to give any answers earlier than absolutely necessary. Nearly everything about "The Ice Forest" is unpleasant to behold. None of the characters (leads or supportive ones) are likable and the conditions that they have to live in are horrendous. Heck, even the only sex sequence in the film is deeply unpleasant to watch. That said, the film does remain compelling and suspenseful, and it definitely keeps you alert throughout the entire running time. The subject matter, particularly during the denouement, is very current and typical for the present- day situation in Europe, and also immediately explains why there isn't any room for comical undertones or light-headed sub plots in this film. "The Ice Forest" stars Emir Kusturica, director of the 90s cult-hit "Arizona Dream" as well as several other unknown but extremely talented actors and actresses. It's not exactly the type of film I would recommend for a relaxing and brainless night of cinematic entertainment, but certainly recommended in case you're looking for ambitious and socially relevant dramas/thrillers.
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