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Review: Fragments of Ice


- One father’s journey morphs into a trip down memory lane for his daughter, director Maria Stoianova

Review: Fragments of Ice

Get your skates on because the forgotten art of on-ice spectacles makes quite a return in Fragments of Ice, shown in Visions du Réel’s International Feature Film Competition. Director Maria Stoianova was just a girl when her father started to tour the world as an ice-skating performer. She doesn’t recall most of it, but she doesn’t actually need to. “My father got a daughter and a video camera at the same time,” she states in the film. And so, the story begins.

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Through this old footage, Stoianova rediscovers someone who suddenly got to experience the whole world, which was so much bigger and brighter than his Soviet Union home. The contrast is, predictably, brutal: it’s really sun versus grey skies; it’s shiny shops versus the insect-infested flat he still has to fight for. “These cockroaches will remain the attribute of our new life,” recalls Stoianova, but oddly enough, nobody is complaining just yet. Her parents are young and gorgeous, and grateful for any opportunity – or piece of cool clothing – that comes their way. It’s a film about family, sure, but also about youth.

Or creativity, because somewhere between Helsinki, Greece, the United Arab Emirates and his favourite, Canada, “where he saw his first huge mall”, her father starts experimenting as well. He looks for unusual angles and playful narratives. He notices bears licking their cages or follows a heated political discussion interrupted by – how very modern of them – people asking for selfies. It’s not just him, however: once her mother gets her hands on the device, it’s time for some dental drama instead. “We did not succeed with the tooth. We decided to wait until it fell out by itself. Now, my beloved relatives are watching TV,” goes her dry commentary.

Fragments of Ice feels familiar – and some topics, like that of one’s national identity, feel underexplored – but it’s a tender, often humorous film. Still, there is no escaping the melancholy. Stoianova recalls her father saying that when “you leave the Soviet Union, you start breathing”. He gets to breathe, he gets to take a break, but he doesn’t get to achieve all of his goals. Also, memories can be deceptive. “It’s filmed. Therefore, it’s trapped in ice,” she says here, also noticing the pain of “frozen” people, stuck in a system that refuses to change. But is that true? What is it that we actually remember?

Stoianova’s father realises it, too, as despite all that footage, one recollection he treasures the most is nowhere to be found. Which makes one wonder: as we continue to take photos and videos, all the time, will there be any space left for memories that haven’t been captured this way? It’s hard not to think about thousands of similar stories, also affectionately captured for “future generations” and immediately forgotten. But Stoianova wants to remember, badly, and perhaps celebrate some happy times, too. Especially now, following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which claimed the life of her friend, the film’s editor Viktor Onysko. Sometimes, remembering is really the only thing left to do.

Fragments of Ice was produced by Indie Film (Norway) and Tabor (Ukraine).

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