"Black Ice": Female Trouble By Margit Tõnson

in 24th Troia FesTroia - International Film Festival

by Margit Tönson

The calendar tells me it’s the year 2008, but watching the official selection at the 24th Festroia Film Festival, it was hard to believe that this is, in fact, the 21st century and that the sexual revolution and women’s liberation have happened at all.

What did we see? A Pakistani story about forced marriage, In the Name of God (Khuda Ke Liye), directed by Shoaib Mansoor; a Turkish story about honor killings, Hidden Faces (Sakli Yüzler), directed by Handan Ipekçi. We saw an adaptation of a play where a young woman behaves as Eve did in Eden, confusing her modern Adam with a kiss and sending everything tragically downhill in Peter Payer’s Free to Leave (Freigesprochen), a co-production between Austria and Luxembourg, and a nicely crafted portrait about a closed community of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Niles Arden Oplev’s Worlds Apart (To Verdener), wherein a teenage girl, Sara, falls for an outsider and must endure brainwashing and humiliation just to be with the one she loves. Considering the unhappy endings and hopelessness in previous films mentioned, I sincerely thank Danish director Oplev for letting Sara walk away from all this, alone and independent, in the end.

I almost forgot to mention the Slovenian film Estrellita (Estrellita — Pesem za domov) by Metod Pevec, in which a recently widowed woman, Dora, discovers after her husband’s funeral that he’d been screwing around for years with a young blond musician, leaving Dora with questions that she very badly wants answered. Even though these films ultimately state that honor killings and forced marriages are bad, there’s still this very strong agenda hovering over them all: If the women had just kept silent or refused to act, everything would be okay. Sure, if anything happens, blame the women — the weaker gender, the doomed, the evil. Come on, modern filmmakers and screenwriters; please show some respect to your audience. Statistically, there is almost the same number of women walking on earth than men! Don’t try to fool us with simple-minded, religious-based cultural stereotypes and your “sincere moral concerns”. I don’t buy it. In fact, it’s exactly what keeps women under the influence. (Think about John Cassavetes’ brilliant A Woman under the Influence, where Gena Rowlands plays a desperate housewife trying to measure up to the norms and rules society forces upon her).

Luckily, there was one really intelligent film about women in competition: Black Ice (Musta Jää), by the Finnish director Petri Kotwica. Superbly scripted by Kotwica himself and absolutely wonderfully acted by its two leads, Outi Mäenpää, and Ria Kataja, this is a strange love triangle that shifts imperceptibly from a psychological Bergmanian drama to a Hitchcockian thriller, spiced up with some black humor.

Saara (Mäenpää), on finding a half-empty package of condoms in the guitar case of her husband Leo (Martti Suosalo), starts hunting down his possible lover, which leads her to his student Tuuli (Kataja). Hiding behind an invented identity, Saara becomes good friends with Tuuli, moving away from home and fully embracing her sudden freedom, which culminates with her making love to a twentysomething German boy. And just as we are totally fooled by Saara’s motives, the true purpose of getting close to Tuuli is revealed — Saara wants her man back. The web of lies draws closer and closer inward, ultimately proving fatal to the increasingly confused man caught between two emotionally powerful women.

You don’t have to agree with the solution in the end; it’s the beauty of the addictive game you enjoy the most. (As Kotwica told the festival newspaper, after finding himself in a similar situation six years ago, he started reflecting and analyzing, trying to see it all from the other angle — and that’s when he decided to choose a female perspective from which to write the script.)

A box-office success in its native Finland and presented in the Berlin competition, I don’t see any reason why Hollywood shouldn’t snap this film up for a remake. Let’s hope Kotwica can once again pull off this same sort of genre-mixing in his upcoming feature, which will deal with youngsters playing too much computer games. Should I now conclude that stories about contemporary relationships deal with men fleeing their families and women trying madly, almost insanely, to restore the status quo? I certainly hope this is not the case. We really need more intelligent films about those women, who may have been abandoned by self-centered men in middle-life crises, but who actually feel relieved, liberated and happy about it. Otherwise, one can never escape the historical, hysterical stereotype of woman as the weaker sex — or crazy bitch.