Freeze Frame: Stabs of Beauty in a Chilly Romantic Dystopia

With It's All About Love, director Thomas Vinterberg takes the notion of love in a cold climate to apocalyptic extremes. Unlike most romantic epics, this enameled near-future reverie strives to keep the temperature down—it's a frosted valentine that gives way to a literal manifestation of a snow globe. For his long-awaited follow-up to family freak-out and Dogme breakout The Celebration, the Danish filmmaker reunites with the movement's anarchic house cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle. But there's nothing remotely raw or spartan about this fitful waking dream, in which the stabs of beauty are as arbitrary and unnerving as the anxiety pangs.

It's All About Love is, by any measure, a colossal folly—ridiculed at its Sundance '03 premiere (where, to this viewer at least, it seemed like a lone beacon of nutty integrity), supposedly disowned by its stars (rumor has it Claire Danes burst into tears upon seeing the end result), and jettisoned by original distributor Focus. But this $10 million Danish-British-French-U.S.-Japanese-Swedish-Norwegian-German-Dutch co-production is a film maudit for the ages—rapturous and inexplicable in equal measure.

Vinterberg's 2020 New York looks an awful lot like 2000, but the city (and, it's soon revealed, the world) is suffering a bizarre variety of ecological and metaphysical ills. Snow falls in July. Once a year, all freshwater turns to ice. Unfazed pedestrians step over corpses on the sidewalk ("lonely or sad people" periodically drop dead from a mysterious heart condition). In Uganda, gravity-deprived villagers tether themselves to their huts to stop from drifting off into the stratosphere. Perhaps strangest of all, the world's dominant form of big-business entertainment is . . . ice dancing.

The ice storm: Phoenix and Danes
photo: Strand Releasing
The ice storm: Phoenix and Danes

Details

It's All About Love
Directed by Thomas Vinterberg
Strand
Opens October 29, Quad

John Marczewski (Joaquin Phoenix) arrives in New York with divorce papers for his superstar-skater wife (and fellow Polish émigré), Elena (Danes). Spurred by ominous shadows in their four-star hotel's maze-like corridors and by depressed Elena's woozy premonitions of doom, the provisionally reconciled couple decide to flee. Given that their escape plan is simply to hop on a Williamsburg-bound J train, it's no surprise that they're soon drawn back into the cultish, moblike Ice International's obscurely motivated schemes—most notably, the corporation's ambitious cloning experiment. Never mind the details; let's just say it takes nerve to climax a film with no fewer than four pink-tutu'd Claire Daneses pirouetting on the ice. Meanwhile, a valiantly overacting Sean Penn, as John's brother Marciello, commentates from on high, composing "a report on the state of the world" as he flies the friendless skies in perpetuity after OD'ing on an aerophobia drug.

Like recent globe-trotting bewilderments Code 46 and demonlover, It's All About Love luxuriates in an intoxicating vapor of jet-lagged dissociation. There's also some of the foul-weather romanticism of Mauvais Sang and The Hole, and of course, a trace of the cloned-love original Vertigo. The deadpan weirdness occasionally slips into daftness, but with its brittle rhythms and puzzling ruptures, it's the sort of movie that could haunt your dreams for weeks. In the end, it is, as promised, all about love—this brave, foolish, improbably moving film's great achievement may be the utter sincerity with which it lives up to its title.

 
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