Monday, June 01, 2015

Open Roads ’15: The Ice Forest

Human life gets cheap in a hurry for those who treat people like cargo and charge by the head. For some considerable time, a trafficking ring has operated with de facto impunity ferrying desperate clients across Slovenia’s alpine border with Italy. Not all of their customers make it safely across. An honest Slovenian cop and an unknown subject with a grudge aim to stop the gang in Claudio Noce’s The Ice Forest (trailer here), which screens as part of Open Roads: New Italian Cinema 2015.

As the early 1990s prologue makes clear, the human trafficking ring operating out of the high mountain power plant will ruthlessly kill to serve its interests. Another body has just turned up in the present day. Unfortunately, the powers that be are not especially concerned about a dead Libyan asylum seeker, so Lana, a Slovenia detective, only has a matter of days to conduct her undercover investigation, posing as a zoologist tracking bears. She is not the only stranger in town. Pietro “the Grease Monkey” has been dispatched to fix the town’s frequently malfunctioning generator.

Most of Pietro’s down time will be spent with the Brazil-obsessed Lorenzo, the brother of the intense looking Secondo, who clearly runs the hardscrabble community in an unofficial godfather kind of way. Lorenzo promises to take Lana up to the power station, so she can snoop around closer to the source. Unfortunately, he will not be able to keep their date, or any others, ever again.

It is easy to forget Italy and Slovenia share a border, since we rarely think of the former in a Balkan context. However, familiarity with the Balkan War and the subsequent uneasy peace will help the audience better understand some of the tragic events that unfold. The fact that some characters are Serbian and some are Bosnian is probably not accidental.

Of course, any thriller fan will appreciate the grandly cinematic Kolovrat Range. Frankly, Noce and co-screenwriters Francesca Manieri and Elisa Amoruso are not exactly the cleverest suspense plotters to come down the mountain. Astute viewers should be able to figure out the big reveal just by doing some quick math in their heads. However, the understated nature of the film’s twists and turns is somewhat distinctive. This is especially so of the big action centerpiece, in which Lana’s cable car is stranded in the middle of nowhere, so she matter-of-factly starts shimmying down an emergency cable, as you do.

Russian actress Kseniya Rappoport, looking world weary and appropriately wary is about as glamorous as Ice gets, which is not very. Regardless, she is easy to buy into as a resourceful and principled copper. Domenico Diele somewhat stands out as the only cast member not buried under a rat’s nest of facial hair, but he creates some real heat with Rappoport. Controversial Serbian filmmaker Emir Kusturica chews plenty of scenery as Secondo while Adriano Giannini gives the film a taste of eccentricity as the hard to pigeon-hole Lorenzo.

Technically, Ice is a first class noir that looks great and sounds somewhat unnerving thanks to Michele D’Attanasio’s strikingly severe cinematography and Ratchev & Carratello’s western-influenced score. Arguably, it is only really Noce who needs to work on his thriller mechanics. Notable for its immersive sense of place and keen awareness of recent history, Ice Forest screens this Thursday (6/4) and Sunday (6/7), at the Walter Reade, as part of this year’s Opens Roads.