Cold Fever

on September 13, 1995 by S.L.
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   Premiered at the Sundance Film Festival.
   Bring your jacket and mittens to this Japanese/Icelandic co-production, which grasps tight with an icy, sure visual hand and rarely lets go. Director Fridrik Thor Fridriksson leads the audience through a quirky, bitter landscape of snow and ice, of family and forgiveness, and he so successfully captures the beautiful, unique aura of a frozen Iceland that the viewer almost finds him or herself shivering in sympathy for Atushi (Masatoshi Nagase of "Mystery Train"), the reluctant, all-suffering hero on his lonely trek across barren country.
    Stone-faced Atushi is the hardest working man in Japan. His first big vacation plans are waylaid when his grandfather requests he perform a Japanese ritual for his dead parents on the spot where they died--a river in Iceland. So instead of sunny golf courses in Honolulu, Atushi faces the Nordic cold. This "fish out of frozen water" finds himself stranded in a strange world of friendly, albeit inconsistent, Icelandic folk and sticky situations.
   Fridriksson, an Icelandic filmmaker, rarely explores the common homespun myths of his homeland beyond the boundaries of colorful, indiginous cliches. Peripheral characters shuffle through the episodic story briefly and then are gone, like spirits on the wind. Atushi's odyssey comes complete with the requisite disturbed American couple (Lili Taylor--in an almost cameo appearance despite co-star billing--and Fisher Stevens, sporting a beard and his usual schtick) who bring only a vague sense of random violence to the piece. Eventful but unfocused, haunting but empty, the movie ultimately fails to sustain the weight of the intended story. Frid-riksson's film engages the intellect but not the emotions, offering little more than tourist bureau trivia (Iceland sports more nobel prize and beauty pagent winners per capita than any other country) and effective visuals. In "Cold Fever," it is the golden glow of distant windows which seems so inviting, drawing Atushi and the audience in, hoping for a fire, a friendly face and someplace warm and dry and safe.    Starring Masatoshi Nagase, Lili Taylor, Fisher Stevens. Directed by Fridrik Thor Fridriksson. Written by Jim Stark and Fridrik Thor Fridriksson. Produced by Jim Stark. An Artistic License Film. Drama. Unrated. Running time: 85 minutes.
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