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March 21, 2011 / Siobhan Argent

The Clink of Ice (Les bruits des glaçons)

Published March 2011 by

An erratic and eclectic combination of French farce and black comedy, The Clink of Ice (Le bruit des glaçons) deals with human weakness, love, and the ever-present threat of your own cancer showing up at the front door.

This is precisely what happens to Charles Faulque (Jean Dujardin) a washed-up, prize-winning writer who spends his days languishing in his own private villa. He wiles away his days with Evguenia, a Russian girlfriend young enough to be his daughter (played by an almost constantly topless Christa Theret). The semi-mute Louisa (Anne Alvaro) is Charles’ much-suffering housemaid, quiet and efficient but constantly fearing for Charles’ sanity.

This fear appears to be justified when Charles’ cancer (Albert Dupontel) knocks on the front gate and gives Charles little choice but to let him in. Initially it seems as though only Charles can really see him. For some of the movie it’s a struggle to ascertain exactly who can see the cancer incarnate and who cannot. Louisa certainly becomes aware of the cancer’s festering and often talkative presence, but it is not clear whether the audience should take the reactions of others in the film as a sign that they are cognisant of a living, breathing, talking cancer shouting back retorts at them from behind Charles’ chair.

Dupontel plays his role with ceaseless energy, creating a cancer so egomaniacal it takes pleasure in watching its victim slowly degrade before its very eyes.

The struggle between Charles and his cancer soon becomes, quite literally, a physical battle, the pointless attempt of a desperate man to force a parasite from his life. In the opening scenes of the film for example, Charles wrestles his cancer’s struggling body over the edge of a steep wall. When he succeeds in dropping him over the edge, he suddenly becomes overcome with concern when he surmises that the cancer must have died. All of these touches have curiously tangible links to the real effect of long-term illness, but they never stray into a serious mimicry of the psychological implications of cancer. The Clink of Ice seems to enjoy dabbling with an alternate, darkly comic view of death rather than any in-depth discussion on illness and the internal and inter-personal conflicts it produces.

The most tumultuous scenes of emotional conflict may, in fact, come from completely human interactions rather than the vindictive cancer; the alcoholic Charles, for example, is forced to reconcile somewhat with his estranged ex-wife, Carole (Audrey Dana). She fears the dark atmosphere of their former house and worries for their son, Stanislas (Emile Berling), when she allows him to go and visit his dying father. But it is here the film clearly falters; Stanislas’ small part becomes such a nonsensical tangential element to the storyline that it drives against the entire spirit of the story, drawing the strength of character construction into question. Stanislas’ appearance seems to destabilise the story rather than strengthening it, and it is clear he is just a prop for plot progression.

The movie’s romance also seems strangely at odds with the sometimes violent black comedy, which shifts between scenes of strangulation (Charles once again attempting to murder his cancer) to Louisa’s own personal torment, one she keeps secret from the shattered shell of a man she has watched over for many years. While Louisa’s own personal secret follows her around (in the form of a slightly scary Myriam Boyer), she does not make nearly half the fuss that Charles does. In some senses Louisa’s role is the most powerful; she is almost a guiding light for Charles, remaining quietly reverent about her simple determination to continue on living regardless of any turn of events.

This is black comedy at its darkest, and sometimes at its funniest. The ending is pure magic, predictable but delightful because it commits so thoroughly to the warped logic of the film. You can’t help but see how much it makes sense within the confines of a similarly ludicrous storyline. In this sense, The Clink of Ice succeeds in continuing the great French tradition of producing suitably crazy but thought-provoking black comedy.


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