Friday July 21, 2000

     Jean-Philippe Toussaint's "The Ice Rink" is a trifle as delicate as a soap bubble. It's kept bouncing along by the whimsical wit of Toussaint, a noted French novelist, who celebrates the timelessness of visual comedy. In this regard it could not be a more fitting debut for Dolores Chaplin, the tall and lovely granddaughter of the great Charlie. The film is also a valentine to the demanding and unpredictable craft of making movies.
     It is set mainly in a French ice skating rink, where a very tall director (Tom Novembre) is attempting to make a definitive sports opus, utilizing the actual Lithuanian ice hockey team. It also works in a star-crossed romance angle involving one of the skaters, played by a good-looking, self-important Hollywood actor named Sylvester (Bruce Campbell), who becomes smitten with an ill-fated beauty in a strapless red evening gown, played by Chaplin.
     Just how the movie-within-a-movie plot works is wisely and amusingly never made clear, but we're told that the ice hockey team faces a sudden-death playoff that is somehow intended to serve as a metaphor for "Europe's predicament," whatever that means. In any event, the director is to turn out his opus with the speed of lightning because his anxious producer (Marie-France Pisier) is determined that it should be ready to make the deadline for entry into the upcoming Venice Film Festival.
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     A great deal of the humor, not surprisingly, grows out of trying to shoot a movie on ice, with men and machinery colliding into one another, and the film's crew struggling simply to stay on its feet. There's another complication as well: The director finds himself falling for his beautiful leading lady, maintaining a wistful silence, just as she embarks on a fling with her handsome co-star, who makes his seduction of her the first order of business.
     In the meantime, Toussaint hints that the director's indefatigable and dedicated assistant Veronique (Mireille Perrier) could just be in love with the director himself. Also on hand constantly is the ice rink's debonair proprietor (Jean-Pierre Cassel), who loves to go on and on about his days as a figure skating star but is not so self-absorbed as to prevent him from making a pass at Pisier.
     Everything pales, however, before the collective struggle to make Venice's entry deadline, which requires a hectic flight by helicopter to Rome, which has unintended consequences for a sword-and-sandal spectacular shooting at Cinecitta. Toussaint tips his hat to the unflagging dedication of the director and his crew, and while "The Ice Rink" records one calamity after another, it never slips up.


The Ice Rink, 2000. Unrated. des Tournelles/Le Studio Canal Plus/Les Films del'Etang/RTL-TVl/Fandango. Writer-director Jean-Philippe Toussaint. Producers Anne-Dominique Toussaint and Pascal Judelewicz. Cinematographer Jean-Francois Robin. Editor Ludo Troch. Music Brahms, Bowie, Placebo. Costumes Claire Gerard. Art director Javier Po. In French, with English subtitles. Running time: 1 hour, 34 minutes. Tom Novembre as The Director. Mireille Perrier as His Assistant. Marie-France Pisier as The Producer. Bruce Campbell as The Actor. Dolores Chaplin as The Actress. Jean-Pierre Cassel as Director of the Ice Rink. An Interama release of a Franco-Belgo-Italian co-production as Les Films.