The Ice Forest (2014)

Rating: C

Dir: Claudio Noce
Star: Kseniya Rappoport, Domenico Diele, Emir Kusturica, Adriano Giannini
a.k.a. La foresta di ghiaccio

Technically, this is likely above average. The performances are fine as well. The only thing missing is – and it’s kinda hard to overlook this flaw – is a story. It’s not often there’s as much of a gap between the script and the other elements in a movie, but here, it’s the size of a mountain canyon. Which is quite appropriate, since this takes place at altitude, on and around the border between Italy and Slovenia. The local community is full of menacing, hirsute men who stare at outsiders in a way which suggest they’re contemplating either eating or raping them, regardless of gender.

Into this literal frontier town comes Pietro (Diele), an engineer who is there to repair the hydro-electric generator at a nearby dam. Also present is Lana (Rappoport), a Slovenian police detective, who is undercover, supposedly there to find a bear that has been moseying around. She’s actually investigating the unexplained death of an African woman, whose body was found in the area with no logical explanation for its presence. Pietro’s contact, Lorenzo (Giannini) then goes missing, and the evidence points increasingly at his  taciturn, even by the standards of the locals, brother Secondo (Kusturica, who has twice won the Palme d’Or as a director). But there are other forces at play, some of which date back twenty years. At that time, the area was a route for refugees seeking to escape the conflict in what was then the disintegrating Yugoslavia. Stuff happened, and revenge is a dish, etc. etc.

Part of the problem is an opening prologue, which goes into considerably more detail than the above. You don’t have to be a dogged Slovenian cop to figure out, more or less, who did what and to whom. As a viewer, you’re then left waiting for the film to catch up with its own reveal. It takes its own time getting there, and while it does, offers not enough in the way of plotting to sustain interest. There’s a strong, well-crafted sense of brooding menace, and you know there is something very dodgy going on in town. The details… well, end up not being particularly relevant to the final confrontation on the dam.

However, it’s never less than well assembled, with Michele D’Attanasio doing a bang-up job of capturing the Alpine scenery (it looks to have been filmed around Trentino, east of the supposed location). Mind you, this is such a spectacular landscape, you could probably film it with a flip-phone, and the results would still look impressive and adequately cinematic. Rappoport feels like she may have strayed in from a Nordic series (all the snow enhances this feeling), though doesn’t drink quite enough for that. However, the dubbed version on Tubi – I didn’t realize they also have a subbed one – feels like it may drain away some energy from both her and the other performances. It perhaps makes for a better screen-saver than the gripping thriller for which the makers appear to be aiming.