BERLIN -- Black ice can be a treacherous hazard to drivers in cold climes where a slippery patch disguises itself as a dry roadway. Fittingly, Petri Kotwica's "Black Ice" follows suit: The film has its characters slipping and sliding all over an icy psychological landscape in a twisted thriller about marital infidelity, manipulation and betrayal. The Finnish writer-director himself skates across thin ice in a not always convincing third act. Nevertheless, it's an exciting ride that displays ferocious talent on both sides of the camera as a taut tale of near-claustrophobic intimacy gets the Cinemascope treatment.
"Black Ice" could break out of the art house ghetto to wider audiences if properly marketed in Europe. It will have to battle lack of name recognition in North America but could find welcoming audiences in specialty venues.
Kotwica keeps a tight focus on three characters that form a most unusual romantic triangle.
The pivotal one is philandering Helsinki architect and professor Leo (Martti Suoalo). When his lovely gynecologist wife Saara (Outi Maenpaa) gets wind of his extramarital pursuits, she creates a fake identity to get acquainted with her husband's mistress, a young graphic arts student named Tuuli (Ria Kataja). Saara even, somewhat unwittingly, joins the martial arts class Tuuli teaches.
The two become very friendly in short order. As Saara has moved out of the house she shares with Leo, her new identity permits her the freedom to reimagine her life, even bedding down with a much younger German student after one of Tuuli's impromptu parties.
Saara actually grows to like her rival, but she still has a jealous streak and means to rid her life of Tuuli one way or another. Before long, Leo's sister and brother-in-law get pulled almost comically into Saara's improvised revenge plot.
Masks at a midwinter revelry play a role in this game of disguise and vengeance and Maenpaa is the perfect actress for this. She has a wise, even placid, face but every now and then flashes of pain and anger play across it with startling ferocity. Kataja's mistress is less a femme fatale than a contradiction of feminine strength (the martial arts) and gullible innocence (her taking both husband and wife at face value). Suosalo's Leo is a man of insatiable desires, a perpetual pursuer of young flesh, oblivious to the damage he causes. And the jeopardy he puts himself in.
Kotwica shoots in widescreen in Helsinki and its wooded suburbs, a place where the frozen wilds seem to encroach on the city. The characters move with deceptive freedom within the wide frame but are trapped by their own foolishness. As events move fatefully to a somewhat overwrought climax, the city's wildness reclaims them from their bourgeois complacency as primal instincts take over.
Making Movies/Schmidtz Katze Filmkollektiv
Screenwriter-director: Petri Kotwica
Producers: Kai Norberg, Kaarle Aho, Leander Carell, Patrick Knippel, Steffen Reuter
Director of photography: Harri Raty
Music: Eicca Toppinen
Costume designer: Kristina Saha
Editor: Jukka Nykanen
Saara: Outi Maenpaa
Tuuli: Ria Kataja
Leo: Martti Suosalo
Ilkka: Ville Virtanen; Lea: Sara Paavolainen; Krista: Netta Heikkila; Uwe: Philipp Danne
Running time -- 104 minutes
No MPAA rating