Film Review – The Ice Forest
The Ice Forest
The Ice Forest is big on atmosphere but little else, a strange thriller that keeps things so close to the chest that by the time events become clear you have already lost interest so the conclusion means nothing. We start by seeing some refugees from the former Yugoslavia crossing into Italy when a fight breaks out between a young man and the people bringing the immigrants into the country. While he is being beaten the young man tells a child to run. From there we jump ahead several years to a young technician, Pietro (Domenico Diele), coming to help with the electrical dam. He makes friends with two locals, Secondo (Emir Kusturica), who appears to be a local leader of a possible gang, and his brother Lorenzo (Adeiana Giannini). There is also Lana (Kseniya Rappoport), who is poking around claiming to be looking for a bear that is disturbing residents as a cover for investigating a dead Libyan girl who was found frozen in the snow.
With all these moving pieces things get both jumbled and slow down to a crawl. For starters, director Claudio Noce shows several beautiful clear shots of the forest and hills of the area but it really does nothing to keep the film’s momentum going. He doesn’t stop with those visuals, he also does several slow-moving shots of a person watching another person as they stare at each other in a “I’m watching you” vibe. He also uses the visual flourish of us seeing a character standing far away and the camera slowly moving onto the person’s face. Also, several slow shots appear at random moments. This originally works to build tension but we have too little set up and then the shots become so commonplace that they lose all meaning as an effect and are there because they fit the film’s style. The film starts to fall apart under this weight of over the top techniques but it is a small problem compared to the fact that it takes so long to figure out what is motivating the people in this town.
I will admit getting lost as to why Lorenzo lets Pietro stay with him and why Pietro starts to get more involved with Secondo to the point that he trusts him in some of his operations. These people are not really well-defined, granted some of this is on purpose in order to build up the mystery of what exactly is happening. But so much of the mystery is underplayed. Lana acts intense and desperate to figure out what is happening but we never really see what it is that makes her this intense, and even worse it is really weird how she starts to figure out what is happening. It is more as if the film needs her to figure it out than that she herself is good at her job. Her interactions with Pietro are bizarre to the point of being impossible to understand. They both say so little, but we are supposed to buy this strange connection they have later in the film that seemingly comes out of nowhere. The other problem is a lot of repetition with these characters but not building anything new between them. Lana’s intensity is shown by her obsession with a barn that she keeps returning to, or by her sitting around thinking, and we still really do not see what she is gaining with each repetition. Sometimes things happen that come out of nowhere like Pietro finding that Secondo’s dog has been hurt. There is no transition or build-up to this scene; we just cut from another scene to this one and never know how or why it happens. It seems to imply we know Secondo has a dog he cares about so hurting it fits the “tension” we are trying to build.
What is the biggest problem is how little it makes us care about what happens to these people. Someone goes missing and I spent more time trying to figure out who it was than caring about why and how this person vanished. Even when I did figure it out there was such decidedly low energy from those left that it was hard to see why I should care when so few others did. We have all this build-up but to what is always vague. I understood what the illegal operation that was going on was and why the girl died. But then it seemed like the film was spinning its wheels waiting and waiting. There is a payoff as to what happened and the event to end the movie did make sense eventually but it really didn’t make it worth the time spent getting to this point.
As a thriller this was surprisingly low energy the whole way through, more obsessed with visual touches and camera tricks than actually crafting an interesting story. The motivations of those involved in this story are kept secret for so long that the we never become invested in anything anyone is doing. We are left with generalities so that we can get a pretty close picture but by the time everything becomes clear we simply do not care.