Iceberg Follies

Running time 84 minutes
Written and Directed by
Dominique Abel, Fiona Gordon, and Bruno Romy
Starring Fiona Gordon, Dominique Abel, Philippe Martz

The Iceberg (L’Iceberg) is a Belgian film (in French with English subtitles), co-directed and co-written by Dominique Abel, Fiona Gordon, and Bruno Romy, who describe their collaboration thusly: “We all have a theatre and circus background. We met in the nineties on a theatre tour in Normandy. Since then we have collaborated on a number of projects for video, theatre or film. We wrote and directed The Iceberg, our first feature film, together. We don’t have defined roles when we work together. We share all the roles, including the writing of the script. After three years of collective script writing, none of us were able to recognize who wrote what.”

The makers of The Iceberg describe their modus operandi as “physical comedy” and credit the influence of “the eccentric actor/directors of the silent era,” whom I take to mean Chaplin, Keaton, Lloyd et al. But these latter eminences delivered linear and coherent narratives, a visual approximation of the real world, and intertitles for plot and locale changes, as well as the dialogue, to their audiences. By contrast, The Iceberg, though not strictly pantomime, and certainly not anime, is only intermittently verbal, and even then only mockingly simplistic.

The story, such as it is, centers on Fiona (Fiona Gordon), the manager of a fast-food restaurant, who lives with her husband and children in the suburbs. One evening, while she is alone closing up, she gets herself accidentally locked into the restaurant’s walk-in refrigerator, and is rescued only the next morning by one of her waitresses. She is half-frozen and barely alive, but her greatest shock comes when she gets home and discovers that her family didn’t even notice she was missing. Along with her resulting alienation from her husband, Fiona is seized also by an obsessive desire to see an iceberg—hence the title of the movie.

I suppose the preceding synopsis sounds linear enough, if a bit fanciful, but the film really plays more like a succession of slapstick stunts. The camera tends to keep a distance from the faces of the characters, the better to concentrate on their bodies and all the contortions required of these clown-like entities.

The exaggerated physicality of the performers is demonstrated right at the outset by Fiona’s grotesque exertions to escape from her involuntary confinement by stretching a head scarf caught in the door almost the full length of the walk-in fridge before it snaps her back to the still-closed door. This extensive sequence is a forerunner of many such aborted acrobatic struggles by all three of the major character-auteurs: Fiona, her hapless husband Julien (Dominique Abel), and René (Philippe Martz), the sailor with whom Fiona runs off in his sailboat.

But Fiona’s “affair” with René is as full of frustrations as her marriage to Julien. Actually, the first character we see on the screen is an Inuit woman named Nattikuttuk (Lucy Tulugarjuk). It is she who is meant for René after Fiona is reconciled with Julien—but not before all three nearly freeze to death near the Arctic Circle, where Fiona finally finds her iceberg, though she slips down it a few times before she can sit at its summit.

If this sounds more strange than funny, that is because it is. In retrospect, I can’t help marveling at how much sheer physical effort went into it, and throughout the film I felt it was making a statement about all of life’s frustrations, and the folly of following a dream, and perhaps the even greater folly of not following it. So much of the narrative takes place in and under one body of water or another that the sea itself becomes a metaphor for life and its circuitous route to absurdity. This is to say that I’m not sure what The Iceberg is, but it sure is something.

Iceberg Follies