Gulf Stream Under the Iceberg: Film Review

Nida Filma
Latvian Oscar entry is sensual, occasionally seductive -- and utterly incomprehensible.  

This year's Latvian Oscar contender, featuring three stories revolving around a man besotted by a temptress, presents a murky narrative.

Among the foreign film Oscar contenders, there are bound to be at least a few that aim to perplex and confound viewers rather than please them. Latvia’s entry, Gulf Stream Under the Iceberg, has a mysterious title quite appropriate to a thoroughly puzzling film. While Yevgeny Pashkevich’s odd triptych is handsomely mounted, it offers too little coherence to attract American audiences.

The director, who claims the film was inspired by the fiction of 19th century author Anatole France, designs his three stories around the Biblical character of Lilith, and all three focus on a man besotted by a temptress. Her name is Leila in one story, Lola in another, but in each tale, she drives the male protagonist to distraction. The first story is set in 1664 and centers on a man bringing a painting to a patron in a distant land. There he meets a woman who seems to be the subject of the painting, and he forgets his pregnant wife back at home. The second story is set in France in 1883 and turns into another story of sexual obsession. The third story, set in an industrial landscape of Riga in 1990, also concerns an artist who loses his sense of purpose.

This much is clear, but most of the rest of the film is murky. To make matters worse, it all unfolds at a glacial pace. All three episodes offer some titillation value; attractive actresses cavort around in the nude and participate in heavy-breathing sexual calisthenics. The period details are vividly rendered. There are two sets of cinematographers, production designers, and costume designers, and all of them do striking work. The first section in particular is dazzling to watch, with rich, dark compositions in the style of a Rembrandt painting. The technicians acquit themselves admirably, but the actors can do little with roles that are so mystifying. All the performers seem secondary to the visual compositions. Pashkevich, who has worked intermittently over the last 40 years, probably made the film he wanted to make. But he will leave most audiences in the dark, struggling to break free of that iceberg.

Cast: Ville Haapasalo, Danila Kozlovskiy, Aleksey Serebryakov, Kseniya Rappoport, Yuriy Tsurilo, Olga Shepitskaya
Director-screenwriter-editor: Yevgeny Pashkevich
Producers: Yevgeny Pashkevich, Natalia Ivanova
Directors of photography: Gints Berzins, Valery Martinov
Production designers: Jurgis Krasons, Pavels Parhomenko
Music: Pavel Karmanov
Costume designers: Natalia Zamakhina, Larisa Brauna
No rating, 125 minutes