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BERLINALE 2022 Berlinale Special

Review: Against the Ice

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- BERLINALE 2022: Netflix’s Greenland-set movie, helmed by Peter Flinth, moves at a glacial pace but proves that men can come to blows even over imaginary women

Review: Against the Ice
Nikolaj Coster-Waldau and Joe Cole in Against the Ice

Following in the frostbitten footsteps of the Denmark Expedition, which left certain questions unanswered and certain lands unclaimed, in 1909, captain Ejnar Mikkelsen (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) sets out to Greenland with his crew. Once they arrive, he also needs a volunteer to accompany him on one further journey to recover the findings of the previous team – all he gets is Iver P Iversen (Joe Cole), a mechanic, stupidly yearning for adventure. Other crewmembers probably know better – whatever is out there, it’s probably not good. And so the two men, who share precisely nothing in common, embark on a trip that will get stretched out for much longer than they could ever have expected.

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Peter Flinth’s Berlinale Special Gala-screened Against the Ice [+see also:
trailer
interview: Peter Flinth
film profile
]
, based on true events and Mikkelsen’s very own scribblings, feels like a passion project for Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, who also co-wrote the script and co-produced the film with Baltasar Kormákur – an Icelandic filmmaker who, after the likes of Everest [+see also:
film review
trailer
making of
film profile
]
, is probably so used to similar weather conditions that he didn’t even bat an eyelid when taking on the job. But Cole is actually a fun addition, a more down-to-earth companion for the man who is clearly dreaming of glory yet sometimes comes off as plain nuts, and a little Game of Thrones reunion, thanks to a Charles Dance cameo, rounds off the package nicely.

There is an occasional titbit reminding everyone that it is, in fact, a period story – they still talk about the “unsinkable” Titanic here – but the biggest problem is that it’s also… a bit dull. The stakes might seem high to these men, but they won’t to most viewers: it’s really hard to care who will finally claim this icy strip of land, be it the Danes or the Americans, and the only ones who really seem under threat are the highly expendable dogs. But things do pick up when the duo finally make their way back, only to realise that nobody is waiting for them any more. Stuck in a miniscule hut, they need to wait it all out – without any guarantees that there will be anything worth waiting for in the end.

Predictably, they start going a bit crazy. Nothing as crazy – or as flatulent – as The Lighthouse, however. It’s actually almost suspicious how well behaved these two are, especially under such circumstances, so when they finally lose it over an old postcard featuring a group of young women (and not even in any compromising positions), it’s a welcome addition. Even though, as always, in such stories, ladies can either visit someone’s dreams or patiently be waiting back at home.

Perhaps it’s all just too polished to really commit to the “survival” part of the story – at one point, you do want more drama, more polar bears and more scenes of Coster-Waldau mumbling something weird into his beard. As discussed in Berlin by the crew, the pandemic made the film feel much more familiar – at the end of the day, these men are experiencing their very own lockdown and all the five stages of grief that go with it. But there is something funny about this odd couple, forced to stick together no matter what, something funny about their desperation when they realise that someone paid them a visit while they were away and then left, because it never crossed their minds to leave a note. It’s such a tragic, hilarious scene, and one that immediately renders them human.

Against the Ice is an Icelandic-US-Danish co-production staged by RVK Studios and Ill Kippers. It was co-produced by Magnús Viðar Sigurðsson and Agnes Johansen, and its sales are handled by Netflix.

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Photogallery 15/02/2022: Berlinale 2022 - Against the Ice

21 pictures available. Swipe left or right to see them all.

Peter Flinth, Joe Cole, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau
© 2022 Fabrizio de Gennaro & Dario Caruso for Cineuropa - fadege.it, @fadege.it, dario-caruso.fr, @studio.photo.dar, Dario Caruso

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