New To Blu: Ice Mother (2017) - Reviewed

Ice Mother, the Czech Republic’s submission for consideration for Best Foreign Language Film at the upcoming Oscars, is a quiet, slow-paced character study about an older woman struggling to find her identity as an individual after years of existing almost exclusively as a mother and grandmother. ​

Hana (Zuzana Krónerová) spends most of her time taking care of her sons and their families. One of her sons, Ivan (Václav Neuzil), and his wife, Katerina (Tatiana Vilhelmová), essentially use her as a maid and nanny for their young son, Ivanek (Daniel Vízek). One day, Hana is out with Ivanek when they see a group of senior citizens going ice swimming. One of them begins drowning, so Hana walks into the freezing water to help him out. His name is Brona (Pavel Nový) and he lives alone in a trailer with his chickens. The rest of the film is about how the relationship between Hana and Brona grows and the effect it has not just on them, but also on the other people in Hana’s life. 

​Both of her sons are selfish and only care about how Hana can help them. She only seems to see Petr (Marek Daniel), his wife, Vera (Petra Spalková), and their two daughters at meals. But she helps out at Ivan’s house every day. Unlike his brother, Ivan is reasonably wealthy. He works all day and does not want to deal with his wife and the way she coddles their spoiled son. Katerina completely takes advantage of Hana’s assistance and degrades her in front of Ivan and Ivanek. This is what Hana’s daily life is like when she meets Brona. ​

It is impressive how, even though Ice Mother is about Hana, the film provides context for her story by giving Brona and Ivanek their own personal journeys. This is done subtly (almost in the background) by writer/director Bohdan Sláma who does a very good job of showing the other characters through Hana. There are no real subplots here; most of what we learn about the supporting characters is learned through the way they react to Hana. ​

I also liked that he did not go overboard with ice swimming as a metaphor. The idea that the freezing water could represent a rebirth of sorts for Hana is certainly present in Ice Mother. But the film does not beat you over the head with it. Sláma could have used it as (capital S) Symbolism, with forced importance. Thankfully, it is just regular old symbolism, which allows the film to stay focused on Hana instead of trying to inject meaning into every shot. That approach works in some films, but its absence was quite welcome here. ​

The biggest issue with Ice Mother is that, because we are really only seeing things through Hana, only her, Brona and little Ivanek are given much in the way of depth. Petr and Ivan only care about Hana in terms of her usefulness to them and Ice Mother only cares about Petr and Ivan in terms of how Hana sees them. They are selfish and ignorant and never get to show other traits. Since they are pretty significant people in Hana’s life and are featured in quite a few scenes, this lack of complexity becomes problematic. This causes the ending to fall a little flat, which is disappointing because I had started to become involved in the story. 

​In the end, Ice Mother is a solid adult drama that does not completely connect on an emotional level. It is a good film, with a very good lead performance from Zuzana Krónerová. But Sláma’s decision not to confront the characters’ issues head on blunts the impact of the film’s conclusion and stop it from being truly memorable. 

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-Ben Pivoz