Pic wraps a melodramatic, borderline-silly storyline in a classy-looking, solemnity-rich package and garnishes with impeccable perfs.

“Black Ice” wraps a melodramatic, borderline-silly storyline in a classy-looking, solemnity-rich package and garnishes with impeccable perfs, resulting in an experience not unlike watching a soap opera made by Bergman acolytes. Sophomore feature from Finnish helmer Petri Kotwica (“Homesick”) tells the tale of a revenge-bent wife (Aki Kaurismaki regular Outi Maenpaa) who creates a false identity to stalk her husband’s mistress, with surprising results. While pic’s been a prize-winner and box office success at home, “Ice” will need to skate cautiously offshore, requiring soft critical cushioning to build auds.

Normally poised surgeon Saara (Maenpaa) pitches a public fit when she discovers a half-used packet of condoms in her architect husband Leo’s (Martti Suosalo) guitar case. Unappeased by his outlandish explanation, she discovers he is indeed having an affair with Tuuli (Ria Kataja), one of his students, who also teaches a self-defense class. Without letting on about her discovery, Saara insists on a separation from Leo, who genuinely wants to stay hitched.

Pretending to be a divorced psychologist, Saara starts taking classes from Tuuli, and before long the two women become friends. It turns out that Leo hasn’t told Tuuli he and Saara are splitsville, and that, unbeknownst to Saara, he’s been having affairs for years with other women.

Just when it starts looking like Saara has developed real affection and empathy for Tuuli, she reveals the depth of her hatred for her rival and sets in motion a Byzantine plan of revenge. It’s also around this point that the script begins to resemble a breathless condensation of six months’ worth of “General Hospital” or “Guiding Light” plotlines, complete with outlandish coincidences, unexpected pregnancies and deaths, suppressed Sapphic desire and outrageous violations of the patient-doctor code of ethics.

Even so, buried within the script’s outre shenanigans, there’s a credible core of emotional truth about the complexity of female friendship and how extreme passion can warp the soul. It helps that the three leads, especially Maenpaa, shade their perfs with such subtlety.

Eschewing the jittery camerawork that marked his previous feature, “Homesick,” helmer Kotwica opts for a cool, stately style here in collaboration with lenser Harri Raty, which favors a wide-angle lens, calm compositions and slow-tracking shots. Repeated tight closeups of the two blonde, similar-looking femme leads work to sub-sonically evoke Ingmar Bergman’s “Persona,” another (albeit vastly superior) Scandi tale of femmes fissuring together under emotional pressure.

On the debit side, string instrument-reliant score by Eicca Toppinen overeggs the pudding with too-insistent plangency. Result undermines script’s occasional flinty sparks of humor, which might have been an extra redeeming feature.

Black Ice

Finland - Germany

Production

A Bavaria Film Intl. (Germany) presentation of a Making Movies (Finland)/Schmidtz Katze Filmkollektiv(Germany) production, in association with the Finnish Film Foundation, Medienboard Berlin-Brandenburg GmbH, with the support of YLE, the Nordisk Film & TV Fund. (International sales: Bavaria Intl., Munich.) Produced by Kai Nordberg, Kaarle Aho. German producers, Leander Carell, Patrick Knippel, Steffan Reuter. Directed, written by Petri Kotwica.

Crew

Camera (color, widescreen), Harri Raty; editor, Jukka Nykanen; music, Eicca Toppinen; art director, Sattva-Hanna Toiviainen; costume designer, Kristiina Saha; sound (Dolby Digital), Christian Riegel. Reviewed at Berlin Film Festival (competing), Feb. 7, 2008. Running time: 103 MIN.

With

Outi Maenpaa, Ria Kataja, Martti Suosalo, Sara Paavolainen, Ville Virtanen, Philipp Danne. (Finnish, English dialogue)

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