Dir: Petri Kotwica. Finland/Germany. 2008. 100 mins.
Petri Kotwica’s darkly inventive second film,Black Ice, tries to be at one and the same time a Hitchcockian thriller, a horror version of a Feydeau farce, and an intense marriage drama of love, betrayal and jealousy in the tradition of Ingmar Bergman.

Although this does sound like an indigestible cocktail, the mood of highly-charged dramatic and sexual tension is so well sustained, the script turns are managed with such bravura, and the three central performances are so mesmerising that Kotwica almost gets away with his hugely ambitious gameplan.

He stumbles (badly, alas) only at the final hurdle when the story - which centres on a cheated wife’s increasingly out-of-control revenge match against her husband’s younger lover - veers once too often into the realm of the improbable.

Until then, much of our enjoyment of this commercially tasty love triangle resides in the way the writer/director is constantly pushing us, and the story, too far for comfort - and then finding a way to make it work.

There’s also the pleasure of watching three terrific actors strut their stuff: Outi Maenpaa is already familiar to fans of Aki Kaurismaki (she’s been in four of his films, most recently The Man Without A Past); but Martti Suosalo and young revelation Ria Kataja are scarcely known outside of Finland. Maenpaa’s raw but nuanced performance in particular must be an early contender for the Berlinale Best Actress award

Kotwica’s film could be the first in a while to break the rule that Finnish movies don’t travel (unless they’re by one of the Kaurismaki brothers). It will never make the multiplexes (at least not outside of the Nordic bloc), but this gripping, edgy melodrama could easily slot into the European and worldwide arthouse slots that are often occupied by Danish dramas like Manslaughter or In Your Hands.

Shot with a controlled palette of greys, greens and blues, with the occasional splash of colour-for-effect, the film establishes the frozen, snowbound winter landscape around Helsinki before introducing us to architecture professor Leo (Suosalo) and his gynaecologist wife Saara (Meanpaa) on the day that Saara discovers that Leo is having an affair.

She soon tracks down the other woman: it’s Tuuli (Kataja), a toughly pretty, outwardly self-confident young student of Leo’s. Trailing her rival one day, Saara finds herself swept up into joining a judo class taught by Tuuli - and in a rapid but well-managed series of moves, masquerading as a psychologist called Crista, becomes something of a friend and confidante for the younger woman. Things, as they say, spiral

The film is shot in post-classical style - there’s nothing handheld about it, but there is a sometimes excessive use of roving shots, extreme close-ups and wide-angle lenses.

Still, Kotwica’s audacious script was always going to need a striking visual package, and everything - costumes, hairstyles, production design - is carefully mood-coded. Other elements that help to drag us away from naturalism and into a Nordic shadowscape at one remove from the real world are the striking sound design (howling wind, the buzzing of unseen insects) and Eicca Toppinen’s charged soundtrack, a sort of ethno-Sibelius played so loud it floods the action rather than simply underlining it.

Production companies
Making Movies Oy
Schmidtz Katze Filmkollektiv

International sales
Bavaria Film International

Kai Nordberg
Kaarle Aho
Leander Carell
Patrick Knippel
Steffen Reuter

Petri Kotwica

Harri Raty

Production design
Sattva-Hanna Toiviainen

Jukka Nykanen

Sound design
Christian Riegel

Eicca Topinnen

Main cast
Outi Maenpaa
Ria Kataja
Martti Suosalo
Sara Paavolainen
Ville Virtanen
Philipp Danne