(Air Date: Week Of 05/22/96)
Road movies, I must confess, are not my favorite genre. The events depicted often feel concocted and arbitrary. Most of the time the trip itself seems pointless, reflecting the aimlessness of the characters and, perhaps, that of the director as well. Even the best of the lot, "Easy Rider," the quintessential road movie and a brilliant flick, fairly overflowed with self-indulgence.
For better or worse, road movies carry the weight of personal and mythic journeys. In "Cold Fever," a particularly quirky and engaging variation on the theme, an unexpressive yuppie Japanese businessman makes a pilgrimage to the remote and frigid landscape of Iceland. His mission: to perform a traditional memorial service for his parents at the site where they died several years earlier.
Directed by veteran Icelandic filmmaker Fridrik Thor Fridriksson, who wrote the script with producer Jim Stark, "Cold Fever" works simultaneously as a solemn coming of age story, a surreal fish-out-of-water story and a kooky travelogue. Beautifully photographed vistas of astounding natural beauty underscore the Japanese protagonist's efforts to navigate the wintry obstacle course to his destination.
As in the films of Jim Jarmusch, with whom Jim Stark worked on several occasions, one never quite grasps the meaning of most of the bizarre occurrences in "Cold Fever." For example, soon after his arrival in Iceland our hero encounters a truckload of local men singing the most beautiful choruses as they ride in the freezing open air. It's a transcendent, breathtaking moment, but its significance in the story is unclear.
In addition to a procession of off-kilter natives, he also runs into some weird New York ambience, in the persons of Lili Taylor and Fisher Stevens. In these scenes "Cold Fever" gives off the hip, in-joke feel of an American independent film, rather than the Euro sensibility that pervades the rest of the picture.
I must confess a certain ambivalence for "Cold Fever." It's well-executed, magnificently shot, peppered with chuckles and actually has a point. Indeed, by the end of our young Japanese friend's trek the film takes on a fragile spiritual power that will resonate deeply with many filmgoers. On the other hand, "Cold Fever" is desperately in love with its own quirkiness and weirdness. By viewing this curious world through a deadpan Japanese guide, it comes off even more absurd. You know, maybe I'm just not hip enough.
Copyright 1996 Michael Fox
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