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    The Ice Rink

    A work of non-friction

    A French filmmaker tries to film a deeply meaningful film on thin ice with Lithuanian hockey players, prima-donna actors and a crew that can't skate, in "The Ice Rink."


    Every winter Olympic year, I have a sort of fantasy on ice.

    Original title: La Patinoire.
    Directed by: Jean-Philippe Toussaint.
    Cast: Bruce Campbell, Dolores Chaplin, Tom Novembre, Marie-France Pisier.
    In French with English subtitles.

    Related links: Official site
    I imagine how much more competitive the figure-skating events would be if the skaters from one country were joined on the ice by the hockey defensemen from another country and had to complete their routines while trying to avoid a good hard check into the boards.

    And that's what we have here, except that instead of figure skaters we have a self-absorbed movie entourage attempting to shoot a deeply meaningful film using hockey as a metaphor for the European Union.

    The Ice Rink  
    "The Ice Rink" ("La Patinoire") is a breezy French farce that combines a little bit of "Slapshot" with "Day For Night." The crew has use of an ice rink and is scrambling to finish its film, "Dolores," in time to enter at the Venice Film Festival (which in reality must have far less maudlin and ill-conceived fare to consider). As the crew and cast stumble ineptly over the ice, they are jostled around by a team of hard-skating Lithuanian hockey players (the actual Lithuanian national team) who refuse to take direction for the plausible reason that they speak Lithuanian rather than French.

    Meanwhile, romance is given ample chance to go awry as the director (Tom Novembre) and the American lead actor (Bruce Campbell, who had a part in "Ellen") compete to claim the affections of the prima-donna actress (Dolores Chaplin, granddaughter of Charlie).

      The Ice Rink
    Incidentally, just to take the film-within-a-film concept to its absurd extreme, there is an additional crew documenting the making of "Dolores" — a film of a film within a film.

    As you might guess, "The Ice Rink" is full of pratfalls, as all but the hockey players and the script girl repeatedly fall on their derrieres while trying to do their jobs. Simultaneously, it's full of movie-set humor — arrogant stars, torturous scenes shot dozens of times, and unforeseen technical disasters.

    The movie's humor is typically silly — certainly not as subtle as, say, "Living in Oblivion" — but often enough clever and on-target. (It will not be lost on the French that the beefy American star's name is Sylvester and he coasts blithely along without understanding a single deeply profound French word anybody says to him.) This is a fun ride and a much better movie than the turkey that the cast is supposed to be making.

    JANUARY 31, 2000

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