The weirdly dislocated lives of four troubled teens are the focus of Gabriel Velazquez’s challenging but extremely rewarding “Iceberg.” Set mostly on the river that runs through the helmer’s hometown of Salamanca, Spain, this minimalist yet moving film sees Velazquez allying himself with such experimentalists of Spanish cinema as Jaime Rosales and Jose Maria de Orbe, evoking with memorable power and compassion the enormous trauma that hides beneath the surface of his young protag’s lives. “Iceberg” has made a decent showing at Euro fests, its distinctiveness and formal bravery suggesting that further collisions with festivals are likely.
Mauri (Jesus Nieto) is the sole survivor of a car crash that killed his parents; he now wanders disconsolately along the wintry riverbanks where the accident occurred. A German Shepherd sniffing along the wreckage swallows a ring belonging to one of Mauri’s parents and runs away, and Mauri’s struggle to recover the ring structures and gives meaning to his existence from that point on.
Rebeca (Carolina Morocho, a compelling presence) is a quiet, shy student at a girls’ boarding school who sneaks out one night to go to a disco. Awakening by the river the following morning, she finds blood on her inner thigh and weirdly starts to think she’s pregnant. Simon (Juanma Sevillano) and Jota (a vibrant Victor Garcia), also playing hooky, are living out a teen fantasy of freedom in an abandoned boathouse, catching fish to eat and being generally destructive. A somewhat unlikely twist brings all three strands together.
Both narratively and thematically, the pic is willfully elliptical: There is practically no dialogue and little exposition, and grownups are entirely absent. It’s suggested that the adult world has abandoned these kids to their fates, and thus bears the responsibility. Yet the script’s rejection of easy explanations makes the film attractively unpatronizing toward its young subjects.
When Rebeca opens a package from her faraway parents and again finds she’s received a completely age-inappropriate Barbie doll, the silent, touching moment speaks volumes about how contempo parents fail to know their kids, but pushes things no further. A final scene showing a couple of swing seats creaking back and forth likewise reps very evocative filmmaking, although having Rebeca wear angel’s wings from a school-play costume is a metaphor too far.
Visually, the pic is as stripped-back as it is in other areas, the often sunlit wintry woods and fields around the river making a suitably alienating landscape. The lack of dialogue sometimes feels forced: It’s implausible that Jota and Simon, as Spanish teens, don’t swap more than a couple of sentences. Snatches of traditional Salamanca music, played on a goat’s-horn flute, are used to striking effect. Soundwork is excellent, with nature’s sounds effectively functioning as a gentle score.