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Siraj Syed

Siraj Syed is the India Correspondent for and a member of FIPRESCI, the International Federation of Film Critics. He is a Film Festival Correspondent since 1976, Film-critic since 1969 and a Feature-writer since 1970. He is also an acting and dialogue coach. 



Ice, Review: Life v/s ice, too much too late

Ice, Review: Life v/s ice, too much too late

Melancholia guaranteed, but so is good cinema. Ice is a 15-minute Estonian film that has been shown at 28 film festivals so far (correction: 35; update provided by Anna Hints), and won four (five, she says)  prizes too.

Harri is a lieutenant colonel in the Estonian army. Divorced, he only sees his ten-year-old son during the school holidays. Harri decides to make up for lost time and take him on a trip to an island where he went with his father when he was a child. Missing the last ferry, Harri takes a local road on the frozen sea. But the destiny of ice has things in store that will shatter Harri.

Anna Hints (b 1982) is a screenwriter and musician (pretty good singer!). She graduated from the Tartu Art College in photography, as a sophomore, studying to be a director in the Baltic Film and Media School in Tallinn. Anna has had personal and group exhibitions in Estonia, Finland, Lithuania, Poland, Russia, Portugal and Mexico. The main focus of her work is on "personal and cultural memory, the (im) possibility of communication."

A thick carpet of snow, a ferry that is seem only from the back corner for two scenes, pulling out, two shots of a dog in the snow, one of it running across, another a close-up, both ominous, a dark car crunching along the layer of ice and snow, one shot of a tree and several shots of Harri carrying his son in his lap—these are the images that haunt you days after you have seen the film.

You would not know his name is Harri. You would not even know the name of his wife with whom he talks on the mobile phone and you might even miss the boy’s name. There is no way you will know that Harri is a Lieutenant Colonel in the army. All these are just incidental details that the scriptwriter inserts while developing characters and situations.

Yes, you will know that Harri has been serving n Afghanistan and Iraq, that he is separated from his wife, that he meets his son rarely, and that a terrible dream that the boy saw is going to come alive. The most obvious message of the film is, ‘Don’t leave too much for too late’, and ‘Choose home and family over politics and war’.

Some very good writing and highly sensitive direction is on display here, as is the work of Director of Photography, Tõnis Tuuga and Editor, Marion Koppel. Tug bagged the Best Cinematography award at the West Nordic International film festival (Norway)

Three other awards have ‘broken the ice’:

·         Critics award - Festival Les Enfants Terribles (Belgium)

·         Best international short film - Festival Internacional de Cortometrajes Flor Azul 2017 (Argentina)

·         Regional Committee Award - First Short Film Festival (France)

Mait Malmsten, who plays the father, is a 45 year-old an Estonian theatre veteran, working since 1992. He graduated from the EMA Higher Contemporary Art School 1994. His recent plays include the works of Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Tom Stoppard and Anton Chekhov.

On the silver screen, you might catch him in Rummy Jüri 1994, Agent Sinikael 2002, Malev 2004, Libahund's Curse 2005, Goldfish 2006, Funny 2006, Jan Uuspõld goes to Tartu 2007, Nuga 2007, December 2008) and The World's Best Village 2009.

11-year-old actress, Aksel Ojari lives in Tallinn and goes to the Tallinn German High School.

She has been acting since she was in kindergarten. On the screen, she had done Stop Your Friends, before Ice. There too, she played a boy. She speaks English and German too. Aksel turned is now all of 13, and is an admirer of Johnny Depp.

Both Malmsten and Ojari have done great jobs, with Malmsten having the undeniable edge of experience.

Rating: ***

Siraj Syed talks to Anna Hints about Ice

Q. Where did the idea come from? 

A. I have always contemplated on impermanence, since I was a small child. Whenever I have some difficult decision to make, I imagine myself on my death-bed and think...would I regret not doing that, or not, and I always get the tight answer. Ice roads have always fascinated me as a great teacher on impermanence. While driving on a frozen sea, I always have a divine experience. We, humans, think we are in control, but in reality there are powers much greater than us. Ice seems to carry us, but it can also break, just like our life can end any time.

The film is inspired by a famous poem "Erlköning" by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, where father is carrying his dying son through a forest. On a personal level, this film is my attempt to connect with my own father. I love him very much, but seldom saw while growing up because my parents were divorced. For me, the son and father are both my father, as a small boy, and grown-up. My father was also a Lieutenant-Colonel in the Estonian Army, as is the father in the film.

Q. Where did you shoot it? How long did the shooting take?

A. We were waiting for the ice road for 2 winters. It needs a longer period of real cold, around 20-degrees Celsius, to freeze the sea, so that an ice road can become operational. When it was clear that climate change has affected Estonia, and there is no freezing, we then waited for the second winter. Again, there was no ice road happening, we had to go further north, to the northern part of Finland. We shot all the film on frozen sea in Finland. During winters, sunlight is very limited, so we had around 6-7 hours to shoot, and no more. We had to plan the shoot really carefully, because it is a very dangerous location. So we had the best location scout in northern Finland, Tapani Launonen, to help us. He knew all about the ice there, so he decided how long we should stay at one place, and when to move our camp. Without him, there was a high likelihood that we could have drowned. My child actor was 10 years old, so of course we had to plan really well, that no-one catches cold. But my team was amazing and no-one got hurt. We had only 6 days and had to shoot everything in that limit.

Q. How much of the car shooting is back projection/front projection?

A. All is shot in real location. We had camera on the car, were really driving on ice roads. The drowning scene was shot with the car separately, and the water separately, then put together, plus added elements in VFX, post-production.

Q. As the writer: Are they both dead or is only the son dead?

A. I do not like to say the concrete answer to my viewers, yet I have clear answer as a writer. I want to encourage people to think of death, impermanence and I am always very curious how people perceive the ending. One viewer came to me and had tears in his eyes. He said he called his daughter after many years inspired by my film. These moments give me the reason to make films. 

Q. Is the voice on the phone yours?

A. Yes, it actually is :)


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About Siraj Syed

Syed Siraj
(Siraj Associates)

Siraj Syed is a film-critic since 1970 and a Former President of the Freelance Film Journalists' Combine of India.

He is the India Correspondent of and a member of FIPRESCI, the international Federation of Film Critics, Munich, Germany

Siraj Syed has contributed over 1,015 articles on cinema, international film festivals, conventions, exhibitions, etc., most recently, at IFFI (Goa), MIFF (Mumbai), MFF/MAMI (Mumbai) and CommunicAsia (Singapore). He often edits film festival daily bulletins.

He is also an actor and a dubbing artiste. Further, he has been teaching media, acting and dubbing at over 30 institutes in India and Singapore, since 1984.

Bandra West, Mumbai


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