Musta Jää (2007)

vt Black Ice
Finland, Germany / 100 minutes / color / Making Movies, Schmidtz Katze Dir & Scr: Petri Kotwica Pr: Kai Nordberg, Kaarle Aho, Leander Carell, Patrick Knippel, Steffen Reuter Cine: Harri Räty Cast: Outi Mäenpää, Martti Suosalo, Ria Kataja, Sara Paavolainen, Ville Virtanen, Philipp Danne, Netta Heikkilä, Väinö Heiskanen, Matti Laine.

Musta Jää - 0 opener

A movie that could be seen as a comedy of errors overlain upon a psychological thriller or as a psychological thriller overlain upon a comedy of errors; either way, it ends in quite moving tragedy, tragedy in which no one really gains and most people lose.

On the day she turns 40, after architect husband Leo (Suosalo) has shared an exuberant birthday bonk with her, obstetric surgeon Saara Laakso (Mäenpää) discovers a half-used packet of condoms in his guitar case: where, she’d like to know, did the missing condoms go? The answer to that question is of course that he’s been having an affair with a student, Tuuli Tikkanen (Kataja). It doesn’t take Saara long to identify Tuuli and discover that, in the evenings, she runs a martial-arts class. Saara signs up for the class and, adopting the name Crista Ericsson, befriends Tuuli; seeing Tuuli showering after the first class, she’s appalled not only by the relative youthfulness of the woman’s body but also by the discovery that a design Leo has been idly doodling at home matches the tattoo Tuuli bears on her back.

Musta Jää - 2 Saara shows birthday party guests one of the condoms she's found

Saara (Outi Mäenpää) shows the guests at her birthday party one of the condoms she’s found . . . and you thought your Thanksgiving dinner turned a tad uncomfortable?

Soon Saara has moved out to be in a pad of her own and has become Tuuli’s best friend. Ironies abound in the relationship, with Tuuli advising her how to deal with “ex-husband Peter’s” girlfriend. In one exquisitely devised sequence, Saara beds a much younger martial-arts student, Uwe (Danne), after a party at Tuuli’s flat, borrowing Tuuli’s bed for the purpose. She leaves before either Uwe or Tuuli has woken. Soon after, Leo arrives to find that, apparently, his mistress has been unfaithful to him with this tousle-headed youth. Little does he know in his wrath that . . .

Musta Jää - 3 Tuuli and Saara, best friends

Tuuli (Ria Kataja) and Saara (Outi Mäenpää), the best of friends.

Just as we’re thinking that Saara’s friendship for Tuuli might conceivably be genuine, Saara plays a nasty trick on her to persuade us otherwise. One night after the two women have been out carousing on the town, Saara borrows Tuuli’s phone to leave a menacing message on her own answerphone as “Tuuli’s best friend”; even though the cops recognize that the voicemail isn’t Tuuli’s they grant a restraining order against her.

Matters are complicated further in that Tuuli believes, through circumstances we witness early on, that Leo’s sister Lea (Paavolainen) is his wife Saara. Later on, at a chaotic fancy-dress party where Tuuli tells Saara she’s pregnant she also tells Lea about her husband’s (i.e., Leo’s) serial adultery. This is not good news for Lea’s real husband, Ilkka (Virtanen), Leo’s business partner, who happens, though admittedly tempted, to be innocent of any infidelity. Again the movie’s comedy-of-errors aspect is coming to the fore.

Musta Jää - 1 Tuuli spies on Leo at home

Tuuli (Ria Kataja) spies on Leo at home and gains the false impression that his sister Lea is the wife she’s never seen.

At that same party, Leo, although he has lured Saara back into the marriage with promises of future faithfulness (pleasingly, after agreeing to this, she asserts her independence by having a farewell session with Uwe), is quite publicly flirting with yet another young student. Assuming that’s the last she’ll see of him for the night, Saara takes Tuuli home and attempts to find out if the woman really is pregnant or not. Yet again there’s comic misunderstanding as Saara finds it easier to pretend she’s a lesbian than admit to Tuuli she’s a gynecologist.

Musta Jää - 4 Leo promises all to lure Saara back

Leo (Martti Suosalo) promises everything in his attempts to persuade Saarato try to relaunch their marriage.

But that’s the last opportunity for humor. From here on the tragic consequences of Saara’s vengeful charade are played out . . .

What makes the psychological underpinning of this movie more interesting than most of its kind—think of all those FATAL ATTRACTION (1987) riffs on the theme of vengeful spurned women—is that both of the principals are, in their own right, powerful women. Saara is a high-flying surgeon who often quite literally holds the gift of life or death in her hands. Tuuli, as well as being a talented, intelligent architecture student, is also a teacher and a Black Belt. (Why both of these strong women should be so keen on the weak, duplicitous Leo is an unsolved mystery!)

Further, both characters are given a psychological depth you rarely find in the Fatal Attraction clones. While Saara is prepared to be quite ruthless in achieving her main aim, getting her husband back, she’s also capable of feeling compassion for Tuuli, whom she recognizes as being genuinely in love with Leo. Tuuli, for her part, is fond enough of Saara that, when she thinks Saara wants sex with her, she’s prepared after a moment’s reluctance to go along with it. There are lots of nice little revealing touches, too—such as that Saara smokes heavily while living with Leo but, during the intervening time when she’s solo, easily abstains.

Musta Jää - 5 Tuuli and Saara at the fatal fancy-dress party

Tuuli (Ria Kataja) and Saara (Outi Mäenpää) at the fatal fancy-dress party.

All in all, then, Musta Jää offers a welcome richness of experience. Its merits were recognized by the Jussi Awards (“Finnish Oscars”), where it was nominated in nine categories and won in five: Best Movie, Best Director, Best Actress (Mäenpää; Kataja was also nominated), Best Screenplay and Best Editing (Jukka Nykänen); Räty might have felt bilked to be only an unsuccessful nominee for his splendid cinematography. In addition, director Kotwica was nominated for the Golden Bear at Berlin.

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On Amazon.com: Black Ice [Region 2]

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12 thoughts on “Musta Jää (2007)

    • Indeed. The cinematography has this lovely “European” feel to it that somehow a lot of the US cinematographers at the moment don’t seem able to achieve. Hard to define the difference, but . . .

      Thanks for dropping by!

  1. Well, I’d be adding this to the DVD rental list if it were readily available, but sadly not. I love that first shot, the one with the three faces glimpsed through what looks like a review-view mirror.

    On the Scandinavian thriller front, have you seen Headhunters, based on the Jo Nesbo novel? I thought it was very slick.

    • No — I haven’t even heard of Headhunters, shame on me. I’ll put it on list of movies to look out for once the current book is out of the way and I have a bit more movie-watching time!

    • have you seen Headhunters, based on the Jo Nesbo novel?

      Thanks to your recommendation, I ordered it through the library and we watched it the other night. I loved it to pieces; Pam thought it was pretty okay, but no more than that. (I was laughing at the comedy-of-errors aspects, she was getting irritated with our hero for being such a numbskull.) At some point when I’m under less of a deadline stress I’ll rewatch it and yatter about it here.

      Thanks again for the recommendation!

      • Oh, brilliant! I’m so glad you enjoyed it! Huge fun. I’ve seen it a couple of times (once in the cinema, once on DVD) and it stands up to a second viewing. I look forward to reading your review whenever you get a chance to watch it again 🙂

  2. I actually have seen this film (at Tribeca) and can readily agree with your superlatively written favorable assessment. Yes there is taut film making here and some remarkable psychological depth. Can well understand why it won the awards that it did.

    • I actually have seen this film

      Well, in some obscure way that makes me feel as if I’ve fallen down on the job! Find those rare movies that Sam hasn’t seen is my watchword, you know.

      Glad to hear you enjoyed this movie too — and thanks for the kind words.

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