CHARLOTTE SCARR reviews Bohnan Sláma’s Ice Mother at Made in Prague Film Festival

An ode to traditional Czech cinema, Bohdan Sláma’s ‘Ice Mother’ affirms that the country’s golden age of film is far from over. Sláma successfully manages to convey a serious message whilst seamlessly interjecting it with comedic interludes. Whilst its heart-warming moments can be compared to the works of Jan Svěrak (director of Oscar winning film, ‘Kolya’), its innocent and blunt comedy takes inspiration from the early works of Miloš Forman.

Produced by Prague’s award-winning Barrandov studios, the film traces the metamorphosis of  Hana, a widow, played by Zuzana Krónerová, from passive grandmother to experimental ice-swimmer. Dedicated to the lives of her two self-absorbed and money-driven sons, she is unable to criticise them or vocalise their errors. Instead, she bends to their every need without complaint, through the lending of vast amounts of money and constant child-minding, even retrieving a phone which had been thrown down the toilet.  Her lifestyle changes drastically when she unexpectedly has to save an ice swimmer from drowning when on the riverside with her young grandson, Ivanek. The swimmer, Brona, played by Pavel Nový, invites Hana to join his Bohemian lifestyle which involves travelling from race to race in a motor home which has a chicken hut converted in the back.

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Brona, who throughout remains inseparable from his pet chicken, Adela, lives completely outside the parameters of the money-orientated world occupied by Hana’s two sons. Attracted to his free spirited existence, she joins Brona’s eccentric group of ice-swimmers. Unsurprisingly a romance blossoms between the pair, to the disgust of Adela, who attempts to disrupt their moments of intimacy: ‘She’s jealous of every older lady that comes round’, apologies Brona. Hana’s relationship with Brona prompts her to call into question the behaviour of her sons. She refuses to accept their demands at the weekly dinner table, serving the food from the pot instead of the porcelain, and allowing Brona’s chicken to walk across the table to her daughter in law’s revulsion.  In complete defiance of her previous persona, she finally confronts them: ‘You are all selfish. Both of you. Just like your father’.

Despite the film’s exploration of greed and self-indulgence, Sláma’s overriding message is a rejection these two evils – a negation that he embodies in 67-year-old Hana. Through his delicate characterisation of Brona as the epitome of an anti-materialistic way of living, he accentuates the self-absorption of Hana’s two sons. Equally, Brona’s composure is emphasised by the wide-framed shots panning across the misted river, which offer a complete contrast to the quick-fire shots across dinner at Hana’s table.

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Although Nový (Brona) essentially plays a comedic character, he still maintains enough subtlety to convey both a natural and an honest emotional performance. The strong performances of the two leading actors means that nothing is lost through the use of subtitles; instead, they are equally able to convey emotion through the subtleties of body language, so that the script is simply an added dimension. Ice Mother is a film in which much is said without words.

However, the narrative does lose momentum, and the plot feels tired by the end of the film. Without giving too much away, in its the second half, Ice Mother takes on a rather more predictable tone, which is a shame, given the surprising, original nature of its premise. This is, however, suitably redeemed by the final few scenes, which detach themselves from the all too commonly clichéd ending of a ‘happily ever after.’

Despite this structural stumble, Sláma’s ‘Ice Mother’, with its accessible, charming comedy and thought-provoking narrative, is a highly enjoyable film, which can be seen as a bridge to the more niche art cinema which can be expected from the Czech film industry. 

Made in Prague Film Festival took place on the 10-12 and 17-18 November at Regent Street Cinema. More information here.

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