Thin Ice

By Joosje Duk | Drama
An employee at an ice rink sees a suspicious man with a backpack.

An employee at a local ice skating rink is wiling away his shift at the lost-and-found booth on a busy day. But in the course of his duties — and while being distracted by a conversation with a very talkative skater turning in a lost item — he spots a suspicious-looking man with a backpack across the rink.

When the man begins acting oddly, the employee’s mind begins to imagine something nefarious, wondering if a potential catastrophe may just be happening before his eyes.

Writer-director Joosje Duk’s sharply focused psychological drama — produced by Achmed Akkabi, Quintin Baker and Tamar Guttmann — is essentially about fear, and how fear can shape the perception of events in people’s minds, warping realities into pre-existing and not always accurate narratives.

Here, the narrative is the discourse around terrorism in general — a highly topical and relevant subject, given recent events throughout Europe. But the film’s strength and skill aren’t about dogma or ideology. Instead, its intelligent, precise writing adroitly evokes an internal experience of fear and imagination, constantly modulating it with a sure-handed control of information and causing viewers to question just how much we can trust our own perceptions at times.

The storytelling is able to enter into the employee’s point-of-view, thanks to subtle yet commanding direction and editing. Shot in an unobtrusive, seemingly naturalistic style, the choices of shot and sequencing constantly upends the expectations of objectivity that such a style evokes.

Instead, the style reveals itself as actually quite stylized as the film progresses, sticking to rigorously clean and simple angles within two main camera positions during the bulk of the narrative. As the action progresses and we observe the reactions of the employee — not to mention his distraction — we see and experience how the employee makes meaning of what he’s seeing. As viewers, we are held to what he sees and knows, and soon we are swept up with him into a quietly effective and tense potential disaster sequence.

“Thin Ice” could be considered a political film, but it is less about policy and more about the intersection of ideas and tropes with personal perception. Through this self-contained short, we experience just how emotionally powerful tropes can root themselves in the mind, with the fear they evoke affecting how we interpret and relate to the world and people outside of us.

Though the events obliquely referenced by “Thin Ice” are recent and still relevant, watching prejudice play out as a mental and emotional process is almost universal to any experience in which events, people and behavior are reshaped to fit a template, rather than being seen for themselves.

This is a thought-provoking film, but it provokes not through incendiary rhetoric but through its own curious, lucid questioning of just how reliable human perception and interpretation can be. It ends with a dark, almost thriller-like note that further destabilizes just what we and the main character know and causes us to question if what we watched was “real” — and perhaps interrogates the very notion of absolute certainty itself during a time of constant anxiety and fear.

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