Reviews

L'Iceberg

Michael Barrett

How strange it is to realize that the modernist aesthetic, which we think of as the visual language of alienation and ennui, traces its roots back into silent comedy.


L'Iceberg

Director: Dominique Abel
Cast: Dominique Abel, Bruno Romy, Fiona Gordon
Length: 84
MPAA rating: N/A
Studio: First Run Features
US DVD Release Date: 2007-09-18

L'Iceberg is a comedy from Belgium that begins when a woman accidentally locks herself in her restaurant's freezer overnight. This becomes a transcendent experience that forces her to evaluate her life, especially since her husband and children never noticed that she was missing.

In a plot twist that may be intended to spoof Close Encounters of the Third Kind, she becomes obsessed with an interior vision of a double-pointed iceberg and sets out to find it. This means leaving her family and hooking up with a big deaf-mute sailor,(Bruno Romy). Her desperate husband Julien, (Dominique Abel), pursues her, getting wet many times in the process.

Our heroine Fiona, (Fiona Gordon), is a red-haired, red-nosed woman who's a bit like Olive Oyl, from the comic strip Popeye, in her gawky skinniness, her flighty flakiness, and her strange fascination with that hulking sailor.

This movie is noteworthy for its style and its method of collaboration. Its story unfolds with very little dialogue and with a static camera that sometimes adopts whimsical compositions, (such as looking out through the round window of the freezer), but mostly plops down in the middle distance and watches each sequence play out unblinkingly in real time, casually letting slip one droll and quirky detail after another.

As a series of visual jokes based on the film frame itself, the movie makes no attempt to be realistic. For example, someone sinks under the water and is at the last moment is pulled up by a hand that suddenly appears from above. It's not the hand of God; it's someone on a boat. Therefore something that should have been perfectly visible is made invisible to the person who was unaware of it until the hand thrust into the frame. There's no point in asking the how’s and wherefores, or even attempting to determine why these characters do what they do. They only do what they do because that’s just what happens.

The three main actors are also the writer-directors, and in their written statement that appears on the DVD, they say they wanted to evoke the classic traditions of silent comedy. Presumably this means Buster Keaton, for example, who often presented himself in precise interaction with various objects and spaces, such as locomotives and falling facades of houses. Their statement doesn't mention Jacques Tati, but his films are the most obvious immediate point of reference, both for their use of space and their tendency to present dialogue as a mixture of random statements and bits of mumbled noise.

What's curious is that this is also the current film-festival/art-house style employed by any number of auteurs. The recent death of Michelangelo Antonioni prompted various writers to observe that his legacy lives on in many filmmakers who plunk taciturn characters into an enervated landscape and have them play out their semi-dramas in the middle distance of unbroken takes, either static or sinuous.

The laundry list includes Jim Jarmusch, Tsai Ming-Liang, Hou Hsiao-Hsien, Theo Angelopoulos, Nuri Bilge Ceylan, Sang-Soo Hong, Abbas Kiarostami and others who have made fine films. Of course their styles can't be reduced so rigidly, (they hardly avoid close-ups on principle), but I think of them as Middle Distancers who consciously set themselves in opposition to the dominant style of Hollywood narratives. They tend to alienate the viewer and encourage detached contemplation rather than try to "suture" us seamlessly into the drama.

How strange then to realize that this so-called modernist aesthetic, which we think of as the visual language of alienation and ennui, traces its roots through Tati back into silent comedy. Was Keaton the first modernist? Was Melies? Was Edison? Film history is constantly redefining its perspective.

This film is also up to the minute as an example of post-auteurism. It's "by" all three of its actor-writer-directors, and their statement, (presumably attributable to all of them), declares that they can no longer tell who did what. This is the first fiction feature I'm aware of with three co-directors, but in the last decade there has been quite an upswing in films with two directors.

These have not been mainstream Hollywood studio movies but independents and non-American films. Meanwhile, the Director's Guild of America still doesn't allow two directors to share the auteur credit. Robert Rodriguez resigned from the Guild in order to sign his and Frank Miller's names to Sin City. (The DGA seems to have a loophole for brothers.) As more people collaborate, especially with digital projects, this is a choice Hollywood will finally have to reckon with.

A word of caution is in order to the majority of viewers who still don't have big screen TV. Movies like L'Iceberg and others of its poised, minutely balanced, carefully paced ilk just don't come anywhere close to their big-screen charm unless you see them on a big screen, and preferably with high-def as long as you're blowing money.

It's common for film snobs to say that movies must be experienced in a theatre. Well, there are many reasons why the "theatrical experience" is overrated compared to the perfect digital image at home, but we must admit that size matters. If you watch a Middle Distance movie on a 24-inch screen, or even 36, you might as well not bother, because you'll wonder what all the critical fuss is about as you squint at the cyphers in their colorful compositions. It's similar to the difference between seeing a full Cinemascope image or watching a pan-and-scan butchery. Even though you see the full DVD image, you'll still be missing something.

5

So far J. J. Abrams and Rian Johnson resemble children at play, remaking the films they fell in love with. As an audience, however, we desire a fuller experience.

As recently as the lackluster episodes I-III of the Star Wars saga, the embossed gold logo followed by scrolling prologue text was cause for excitement. In the approach to the release of any of the then new prequel installments, the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare, followed by the Lucas Film logo, teased one's impulsive excitement at a glimpse into the next installment's narrative. Then sat in the movie theatre on the anticipated day of release, the sight and sound of the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare signalled the end of fevered anticipation. Whatever happened to those times? For some of us, is it a product of youth in which age now denies us the ability to lose ourselves within such adolescent pleasure? There's no answer to this question -- only the realisation that this sensation is missing and it has been since the summer of 2005. Star Wars is now a movie to tick off your to-watch list, no longer a spark in the dreary reality of the everyday. The magic has disappeared… Star Wars is spiritually dead.

Keep reading... Show less
6

This has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it.

It hardly needs to be said that the last 12 months haven't been everyone's favorite, but it does deserve to be noted that 2017 has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it. Other longtime dreamers either reappeared or kept up their recent hot streaks, and a number of relative newcomers established their place in what has become one of the more robust rock subgenre subcultures out there.

Keep reading... Show less
Theatre

​'The Ferryman': Ephemeral Ideas, Eternal Tragedies

The current cast of The Ferryman in London's West End. Photo by Johan Persson. (Courtesy of The Corner Shop)

Staggeringly multi-layered, dangerously fast-paced and rich in characterizations, dialogue and context, Jez Butterworth's new hit about a family during the time of Ireland's the Troubles leaves the audience breathless, sweaty and tearful, in a nightmarish, dry-heaving haze.

"Vanishing. It's a powerful word, that"

Northern Ireland, Rural Derry, 1981, nighttime. The local ringleader of the Irish Republican Army gun-toting comrades ambushes a priest and tells him that the body of one Seamus Carney has been recovered. It is said that the man had spent a full ten years rotting in a bog. The IRA gunslinger, Muldoon, orders the priest to arrange for the Carney family not to utter a word of what had happened to the wretched man.

Keep reading... Show less
10

Aaron Sorkin's real-life twister about Molly Bloom, an Olympic skier turned high-stakes poker wrangler, is scorchingly fun but never takes its heroine as seriously as the men.

Chances are, we will never see a heartwarming Aaron Sorkin movie about somebody with a learning disability or severe handicap they had to overcome. This is for the best. The most caffeinated major American screenwriter, Sorkin only seems to find his voice when inhabiting a frantically energetic persona whose thoughts outrun their ability to verbalize and emote them. The start of his latest movie, Molly's Game, is so resolutely Sorkin-esque that it's almost a self-parody. Only this time, like most of his better work, it's based on a true story.

Keep reading... Show less
7

There's something characteristically English about the Royal Society, whereby strangers gather under the aegis of some shared interest to read, study, and form friendships and in which they are implicitly agreed to exist insulated and apart from political differences.

There is an amusing detail in The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn that is emblematic of the kind of intellectual passions that animated the educated elite of late 17th-century England. We learn that Henry Oldenburg, the first secretary of the Royal Society, had for many years carried on a bitter dispute with Robert Hooke, one of the great polymaths of the era whose name still appears to students of physics and biology. Was the root of their quarrel a personality clash, was it over money or property, over love, ego, values? Something simple and recognizable? The precise source of their conflict was none of the above exactly but is nevertheless revealing of a specific early modern English context: They were in dispute, Margaret Willes writes, "over the development of the balance-spring regulator watch mechanism."

Keep reading... Show less
8
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image