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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Frozen Land aka Paha Maa
Frozen Land aka Paha Maa
Olive Films // Unrated // August 4, 2009
List Price: $29.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Tyler Foster | posted May 8, 2010 | E-mail the Author
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The Plot
Can your emotional and psychological state of being manifest itself, and can you force it unto others if you're not careful? A schoolteacher (Pertti Sveholm) is fired from his job. As a result, he spends his time fighting at home with his teenage son Niko (Jasper Pääkkönen). Niko escapes, shacking up with his best friend Tuomas (Mikko Leppilampi) and Tuomas' girlfriend Elina (Pamela Tola), where he forges a $500 bill and uses it at a pawnshop. The pawnshop owner forks it over to a low-rent half-crook salesman named Isto (Mikko Kouki), and so on, and so forth, creating a web of "bad vibes" that are connected by a chain of devastating events.

The Film
The idea of karma, or, more specifically, "what goes around, comes around", seems to be an irresistibly appealing idea for modern minimalist filmmakers. Frozen Land is a Finnish film from 2005, and when I found it in the DVDTalk screener pool, there was an Amazon review or summary likening it to Pulp Fiction. That's a bold statement, but I didn't see anything better, so I threw it on my list. The truth is that Frozen Land has more in common with the much-maligned Oscar-winner Crash in the way it shows us lives intersecting and a chain of consequences connecting people that have never, and will never meet. It's better than that movie -- not nearly as overwrought -- but it's still a fairly bleak look at the world that might have benefitted from a touch of hope at the right moment.

As you can see above, there is not much of a plot, as such, with each one of these moments creating a small character vignette. The screenplay, by Paavo Westerberg, Jari Rantala, and Aku Louhimies (who also directed) hops between them at its own leisure, eventually doubling back on itself. Niko is one of the first characters we meet, but the movie saves Niko's story until the end, sandwiching it between two sections concerning Tuomas and his girlfriend. The film is broken up into semi-arty "chapter" titles, such as "Unemployment", "Booze", and "Police". At the very least, the film spends the right amount of time with each of its sections and characters, and even in the few cases where you don't follow a character all the way to the end of their journey, there isn't a palpable sense that the movie is giving them the short end of the stick.

Part of it is how well the actors pace themselves, giving what they have to give in the time they have to give it. There are a lot of stand-outs in Frozen Land's ensemble. Matleena Kuusniemi plays a young, nervous cop who stumbles onto what may or may not be her first major crime scene, and both she and Louhimies paint a vivid portrait of her reaction. I also liked Pamela Tola as Elina, who manages to walk the line between warmth and darkness that the movie doesn't, and Mikko Leppilampi as her boyfriend. Tuomas is about to perform a minor break-in of some sort, and the couple finds low-key emotional states that didn't immediately remind me of every set of lovers taking a dangerous risk. Louhimies also manages to get lots done on what looks like a limited budget, creating an atmospheric setting that matches the tone (however overwhelming) that he wants the film to have.

Frozen Land's weakness, however, is that it doesn't know when or how to let up. It's true that the world is a cruel and unforgiving place, and there have definitely been films that achieved greatness by focusing on the darker aspects of human nature. However, to successfully do that takes an assured hand and a knowledge of the audience's limits, and Louhimies would do better to punctuate the movie with constant beats of tragedy than keeping the whole piece at a steady level of moodiness and despair. After a fairly spirited opening, the movie quickly becomes an unbreaking wave of chaotic, destructive characters, and there's rarely anywhere for the audience to turn for for just a few brief minutes of relative relief.

In the final pivotal moment of Frozen Land, despite almost certain indication otherwise, I internally begged the movie for a glimpse of something better, and for all intents and purposes, that outcome is seemingly set up: if a negative gesture can bring everything to the ground, isn't a positive gesture the key to rebuilding? I guess Louhimies disagrees, because the resulting events and the final lines of dialogue stay the course, and almost go so far as to mock the idea of hope. Frozen Land is a well-made motion picture, and it has many merits I can recommend, but for my tastes, it's overly cynical, and I'm not sure what Louhimies wants the viewer to gain from watching it.

The packaging for Frozen Land is a little weird: it doesn't look like final packaging, so maybe this is the first screener disc I've ever received that came in a DVD case. The front cover is pretty basic (a poster image framed inside a black border with Olive Films' logos in the frame), but the back cover has a weird listing of the disc specs that's more technically focused than consumer-friendly.

The Video, and Audio
This non-anamorphic 1.85:1 widescreen presentation is not going to impress anyone. It adds to my theory that this is a screener and not an official DVD. Just a day or so ago, I was watching Criterion's non-anamorphic presentation of Armageddon and marveling at how, even while using my "zoom" function to "correct" the image, it remained detailed, colorful, and sharp. No such luck with Frozen Land, which has color bleeding issues akin to those found on a VHS tape, and is overwhelmingly soft except in the occasional close-up shot. Actually (in a so-bad-it's-almost-funny way), the image is so soft it seems to be eliminating most of the ghosting inherent to the transfer.

A Finnish Dolby Digital 2.0 is basically muddy, without much separation between foreground and background, dialogue and sound effects. The finishing touch are the English subtitles, which are, of course, burned-in. Distractingly, there are constant gaps where the subtitles don't translate all of the dialogue. I get the impression that the skipped lines are all about the wording of what's being said -- the gist of what's being said is always there -- but, well, that's just not good enough. The subtitles ought to be an as-accurate-as-possible translation of what's being said, and these ones, despite allowing the viewer to follow the movie, are not up to snuff.

The Extras
A photo gallery and the original theatrical trailer are the only bonus features.

If you are curious, and don't mind a film that is not just bleak, but insistently so, Frozen Land might be worth a rental, but I can't in good conscience tell you to consider purchasing the low-quality product that I received.

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