Wednesday, December 19, 2018

MUBI: Frost

They really should have just done an AIDS walk. Instead, Rokas Vysniauskas and his girlfriend Inga Jauskaite agree to deliver a van-load of humanitarian aid to the Ukrainian defense forces battling “separatists” (a.k.a. Russians) along the porous Donbass frontline. It will be a much more dangerous mission than they initially expect in Sharunas Bartas’s Frost (trailer here), which premieres tomorrow on MUBI.

Vysniauskas is not very political, but he agrees to make the delivery on behalf of a friend, more or less for what-the-heck reasons. He also seems to think it will be a way to strengthen his strained relationship with Jauskaite. However, his plan seems to backfire during a stopover in Poland. During a party with Ukrainian relief workers and international journalists, they both initiate flirtatious encounters with other guests.

Nevertheless, they continue on their way, but the closer they get to the front, the more rigorously they are vetted at check points. Some of the Ukrainian self-defense volunteers see them as little more than dilletantes—and neither Bartas, co-screenwriter Anna Cohen-Yanay, or their characters are much inclined to argue.

It is probably safe to say Frost cautiously sides with Ukraine. It certainly is not pro-Russia. However, its most pointed criticism is directed at the young Lithuanians’ gawking war zone tourism and their na├»ve do-gooder attitudes. Wars are serious business, as everyone will eventually see first-hand.

Ironically, Vanessa Paradis steals the show with her brief but significant appearance as a photo-journalist with whom Vysniauskas chastely spends the better part of a night. Their ships passing dialogue is conducted in halting English, but it definitely connects on an emotional level. It is also the only time Mantas Janciauskas comes out of his Nordic-like Baltic shell. As Vysniauskas, he is glacially reserved. In contrast, Lyja Maknaviciute is a bit more passionate and quite a bit more neurotic as Jauskaite.

When Bartas finally stages scenes of warfighting, they are frightening and confusing in the right, deliberate kind of way. Admittedly, Frost is a small, uneven film, but it has enough interesting things going for it, particularly for MUBI subscribers. Recommended accordingly, Frost starts its 30-day MUBI rotation tomorrow (12/20).