The World Will End in Ice
Of his most recent film, director Thomas Vinterberg asserts that “the plot is less interesting, only there to translate our thoughts.” Oddly, however, that slighted story mirrors the cinematography of Anthony Dod Mantle and Ben van Os’s production design for It’s All About Love. With added bits of second-unit exterior work around the globe, most everything is striking studio-shot, reality within artificiality, architectural interiors from bygone days of grandeur. Center-screen swirls in lighted pinks, beige, electric blue, the palest of skin tones around shadowed eyes over vermilion lipstick (and blood), spotlighted against sinister somber background fringe. The story, too, is like this, engaging in the middle yet framed, not in darkness, but in whiteout, a descent making nothing of promising intrigue and self-proclaimed Hitchcockian pretensions.
The director and his co-screenwriter Mogens Rukov have most consciously set out to achieve the reverse of their 1997 feature, Festen (The Celebration), exemplar of Vinterberg and Lars von Trier’s Dogme manifesto. If that 1995 movement was a “vow of chastity” renunciation of every mechanical cinema tool and trick, this newest is “a fairy tale of life . . . [which] you can regard as a dream.”
Also memorably studio-shot (reputedly then redone by executive producer Francis Ford Coppola), Wim Wenders’ initial U.S. movie has a literate Sam Spade later muse on “the stuff dreams are made of,” and that Hammett offers reflections on life as fairy tale fiction. But here any similarity ends, for this Vinterberg’s first international feature dissipates its premise in wildly unconnected subplots that include climate catastrophe, the number seven, flower-bearing hit man Mr. Morrison (Geoffrey Hutchings), unexplained (often children’s) bodies in trashcans and on pavements and escalators, selfish unrealized brother Michael (Douglas Henshall) and slipshod-accented older brother-commentator Marciello-as-spokesman-for-Rukov (Sean Penn). Somewhere on the snowy way to an airport at Port Nelson, interlocked lovers freeze, and so does the film, oblivious to the hundred-eighty-degrees between suggestive restraint, on the one hand, and cardboard shallowness on the other.
Traveling to campaign for Festen, Vinterberg missed “my wife, and my two daughters wearing pink dresses and ice skates” while observing what he terms “the cosmopolitan club that lives in the sky,” those continual travelers for business, money, fame or love who belong nowhere. In a visually retro-future summer of 2021, Doctor of Polish Literature John Marchewski (Joaquin Phoenix) lives far from quintuple gold medallist, twice world champion ice-skater wife Elena (Claire Danes). He in Poland, she performing all over, their marriage has not worked, so en route to Calgary he stops in New York with divorce papers needing her signature.
Circumstances and her request keep him overnight as, despite reservations, the childhood sweethearts click once again. She, however, is an international cash-cow superstar, lonely, stressed, drugged and, in the manner of celebrities, ringed by a jealous entourage “family with a few problems” of hangers-on, managers, goons and groupies, friends and foes. John is welcomed but comes to sense that something is rotten. Look-alike blondes show up with murder in mind, caring secretary Betsy (Margo Martindale) whispers to “get out of here [with] Elena, run!” manager David (Alun Armstrong) is sinisterly firm, and staffer Arthur (Mark Strong) persistent and physical.
Flight is the only option, but doomed airplanes cannot descend anywhere because of snow, young hearts are physically weak and ready to give out, these white vinyl designer boots are not made for walking in stormy cold (accompanied by equally frigid acting) which a belatedly returned love cannot thaw. With all this, what is served up is mere sleight of hand, showiness without substance.
(Released by Focus Features and rated "R" for a scene of strong violence, some language and sexuality.)