Written by: Johan Fundin on November 27th, 2006
Approximate running time: 130 mins
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 Widescreen, Colour, 35mm
Director: Aku Louhimies
Writer: Aku Louhimies, Jari Rantala, Paavo Westerberg
Cinematography: Rauno Ronkainen
Cast: Jasper Pääkkönen, Mikko Leppilampi, Pamela Tola, Petteri Summanen, Matleena Kuusniemi, Mikko Kouki, Sulevi Peltola, Pertti Sveholm
“Frozen Land has been a success at film festivals all over the world and that is hardly surprising” – Swedish Daily News
(Contains strong language, bloody violence, homo and hetero sex, and hard drug use.)
Winner of the prestigious Golden Owl at Leeds International Film Festival 2005 (among other Awards the film won that year). The Golden Owl competition promotes talented international filmmakers that haven’t received attention before in the UK. If you feel depressed, save this film for another and better day. The frozen city landscape of Helsinki, capital of Finland, with its dark and moody streets is the backdrop of Frozen Land – an ultra-pessimistic metaphorical journey into misfortune, crime and violence.
The story opens with the schoolteacher Smolander (Pertti Sveholm) who – straight after a lesson – is told the bad news that he has been fired, not because of professional incompetence but due to ‘re-organisations’. Devastated he returns home, drunk, only to take his frustration out on his adolescent and lazy son Niko (brilliantly played by Jasper Pääkkönen). The son is shouted at, beaten, and thrown out of the flat together with his limited number of belongings. Niko is now drifting around on his own in the ice-cold streets by night before meeting up with the old pal Tuomas (Mikko Leppilampi) – a guy with a bad influence. Tuomas and his blonde pretty girlfriend Elina (Pamela Tola) are hosting a wild cocaine- and booze-party, and they invite Niko to come along. A PC in the young couple’s home is carrying a file from which next-to-perfect bank notes can be printed out. Nothing is really planned at this stage, but during the psychological influence of the cocaine frenzy, Niko (who is broke) prints out a fake 500-Euro note that he later uses in a pawnshop as payment for a CD player. One of the sub-tracks of the film follows how the counterfeit note keeps changing owner throughout the city, bringing misfortune (occasionally deadly misfortune…) upon every person who comes across it.
The fascinating point with Louhimies’ film is – within the microcosm defined by a city – how individual citizens, originally unknown to each other, become interconnected through the chain-reaction caused by the transfer of personal problems from one character to another. The film, which is divided into a number of sections by caption cards, comprises several sub-stories about individual human destinies.
As for the acting performances, the director has succeeded in bringing out the very best of his players. The acting is absolutely superb overall. This is just a movie but as a viewer you have to keep reminding yourself about that because it looks so real. The toilet rape of Elina high on drugs is shocking for its realism, profoundly convincing in the performances of the actors. The pain and despair expressed by the girl’s face is felt through the viewer. Of all the great acting, Jasper Pääkkönen as Niko and Pamela Tola as Elina are the outstanding players. Another equally repugnant moment is the homoerotic anal sex scene with Niko and a boy he meets in a gay bar. If the sex scenes in Lars von Trier’s experimental Dogma-manifesto movie The Idiots (1998), or as in most Takashi Miike films for that matter, are choreographed with a slight touch of humour, Aku Louhimies’ analogical scenes by contrast – in Frozen Land – are rough, brutal and offensive. The scenes of pure violence (absence of sexual imagery) feel equally unpleasant to watch – not because of explicit gore effects (there aren’t any – with one exception) but because of their emotional charge, especially in a scene where a child is exposed to domestic violence and abusive language. The sex and violence reaches its pinnacle in a gory double murder in a hotel room – a dragged out semi-pornographic sequence of stark imagery that even Quentin Tarantino would have been proud of. I am not going to reveal what the murder weapon is…I leave it to potential viewers to find out themselves.
Finally, the director’s camerawork and rapid editing technique deserve a mention. Louhimies employs very intimate framing and pushes the ‘close-up’ shots even closer than Sergio Leone ever did. Also, his footage often reflects the point-of-view of individual characters in extreme situations, or characters’ imaginary visions (thoughts, dreams, memories, hallucinations) associated with traumatic experiences. For example, in the scene where the schoolteacher is told he has lost his job, he suddenly feels dizzy and gets tears in his eyes. His trauma is communicated to the viewer through the use of a ‘shaky-cam’ in point-of-view to reflect his dizziness and a de-focused picture to illustrate his deteriorated vision caused by the tears.
Frozen Land is one of the very best films that came out of Scandinavia last year. A multiple Award-winning movie at film festivals during 2005, Aku Louhimies’ film is a must-see for art house film fans and for anyone interested in contemporary Scandinavian cinema. You won’t regret it.
Note: Don’t walk out when the end credits begin. Sit through them, watch the images, and listen to the great soundtrack.
Availability: On August 26th, 2006 Frozen Land was released on DVD in the (UK) by a company named Solar Films. The film is in a letterboxed 1.85:1 aspect ratio and the audio is in a Dolby Digital 5.1 and English subtitles have been provided.