‘The Ice Forest’ (‘La foresta di ghiaccio’): Rome Review

The Ice Forest Still - H 2014
Courtesy of Rome Film Festival

The Ice Forest Still - H 2014

A lavishly shot but stuttering thriller begging for a US remake

Serbian director Emir Kusturica takes top billing in Claudio Noce’s thriller about an Italian town weighed down by a criminal secret

With a premise revolving around a human-trafficking racket in a redneck-infested town, director Claudio Noce's second feature film has more of a Hollywood than a European ring to it. And the Italian director seems to have milked its American likeness to the max: here, the locals wear Stetsons and move around in pick-up trucks; the avenger-hero is a man with no name; and the lawman (or to be exact, the law-woman) talks about cowboys and wears a Washington Redskins cap. The settings, meanwhile, include a bar with a country-music jukebox and a sleazy strip-club run by a menacing gangster.

Given the deployment of all these tropes, it's as if The Ice Forest is begging for a US remake. It might not be that horrifying an idea, actually, given that some plain and straightforward storytelling would do more justice to Noce's premise than the filmmaker's own stuttering attempt of his own material – an effort which, mind you, has already come cluttered with clichéd devices such as slow-motion sequences, swooping aerial shots and boilerplate dialogue.

The presence of Emir Kusturica in a top-billing role has certainly given The Ice Forest some pedigree, with its premiere at the Rome Film Festival on Oct. 24 to be followed by an appearance in Tokyo later this week. But it's difficult to see the film breaking out of its home market beyond this initial smattering of screenings on the international circuit.

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In fact, Kusturica isn't even the film's main character, and its ominous title is misleading as most of the action takes place either in the town or in a hydro-electric power plant atop a steep mountain. Set in a northeastern corner of Italy's borderlands with Slovenia, the snow-covered forest is only a place people pass through – and it's from the trees that the film's two lead characters emerge.

Firstly, there's the young mechanic (Domenico Diele) who arrives in the rural outpost charged with the task of repairing its electric supply. Then there's Lana (Ksenia Rappoport), a Slovenian detective masquerading as an Italian forest ranger so as to investigate what the suspicious, crass and mostly male townsfolk have to do with the corpse of a young Libyan woman discovered just outside the settlement.

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While Noce has tried his utmost to ramp up the intrigue with a slowly unwinding string of revelations, the film's opening, pre-credit scene offers even the most inattentive viewer a major spoiler: the short sequence, set in 1994, of a young Serbian refugee who flees by himself to Italy after watching a group of human traffickers murder his elder brother, probably offers enough of a framework for anyone to figure out who our nameless main player in the present-day story is — and what money-making rackets are being hatched by those macho types with the bearish Secondo (Kusturica), a Serb living alone in that power plant up the mountain.

The Ice Forest does boast remarkable production values, and Michele D'Attansio handles well a mix of sweeping imagery of the breathtaking backdrop and also urgent, handheld camerawork of the characters' frequent shuffling and scuffling with each other. Daniele Frabetti has also delivered production design that responds to Noce's ambitious attempts to inject symbolism into the settings – such as the hilarious tropical-themed shack of Lorenzo (Adriano Giannini), a man desperate to leave the town behind to live at the feet of the Jesus statue in Rio de Janeiro. What Noce needs, however, is a realignment of his components – another edit or even a tighter screenplay, for example, would bring some much-needed heat to The Ice Forest.

Venue: Rome Film Festival (Cinema D’Oggi)

Production Company: Ascent Film, Rai Cinema

Cast: Domenico Diele, Emir Kusturica, Ksenia Rappoport, Adriano Giannini

Director: Claudio Noce

Screenwriters: Francesca Manieri, Elisa Amoruso, Claudio Noce with the collaboration of Diego Ribon

Producers: Andrea Paris, Matteo Rovere

Director of photography: Michele D’Attanasio

Production designer: Daniele Frabetti

Costume designer: Maria Cristina La Parola

Music: Ratchev & Carratello

Casting directors:Francesca Coticoni, Gabriella Giannattasio

Editors: Paola Freddi, Andrea Maguolowith the collaboration of Federico Conforti

International Sales: Doc and Film International

In Italian and Serbian

No rating; 99 minutes