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Familiar fish-out-of-water plot still charms in subtle Cold Fever

By Stephen Brophy
Staff Reporter

If you still have a warm spot in your cinephile heart for Local Hero, you can easily find a place somewhere close by for Cold Fever. Like it's deceptively charming predecessor, Cold Fever tells a story of a young business executive, probably on his way up in the corporate world, who takes a trip to a place he doesn't want to go and meets his real self there. But there are some differences.

Cold Fever begins in Tokyo rather than Houston, and our young protagonist has to give up a much desired golfing vacation to Hawaii to go to Iceland. There he needs to perform funeral rights for his parents, who drowned some years previously in a remote, wild river. When we first meet Atsushi, talking in a bar with one of his office mates, we learn immediately that he wants to go to Hawaii because he's tired of being cold.

Once in Iceland, he bumps up against one peculiar person after another, and treats them all with perhaps a little too much blind trust. Through the rigors of obtaining transportation, going down wrong roads, getting lost in the white-outs of one snow storm after another, he just keeps on going like the Energizer bunny, but with perhaps a little less enthusiasm.

When Atsushi is still in Tokyo, the screen is framed in the standard aspect ratio, roughly the same shape as a TV screen. When he arrives in Iceland, the screen opens up to something like Vistavision, which serves a double purpose. Iceland possesses a frigid, forbidding landscape, but one that is quite austerely beautiful. The wide screen lets us see the beauty of an expansive ice field, or of a frozen sea washing up on a slate shore under cloudy skies. It also underlines the essential loneliness of Atsushi's situation.

That is the big difference between Cold Fever and Local Hero. In the earlier movie, barriers between people slowly melt, and we are all awash in a sentimental glow of friendship by the time the characters have bonded. In Cold Fever the clothes they wear and the ice that seems to form around them seem to signify some sort of armor that keeps people from reaching each other. When two characters do manage to intersect, it feels nothing short of miraculous.

This is a contemplative story; its pace isn't actually glacial, but it's not an action movie, either. A few unsettling events happen, or are hinted at, and are never referred to again. So there are lots of questions, and plenty of time to mull over them. Cold Fever rewards those in the audience who don't need to have everything spelled out for them, and who approach it with patience.