Cinema Without Borders: Cold—Crime in a continuum

In this weekly column, the writer explores the non-Indian films that are making the right noise across the globe. This week, we talk about Erlingur Thoroddsen’s Cold
Cinema Without Borders: Cold—Crime in a continuum

There couldn’t have been a better title for a film about the investigation into a bone-chilling cold case set in Iceland. Erlingur Thoroddsen’s Scandi noir or Nordic noir, whatever name you may call it by, Cold (original title Kuldi) is based on the bestselling book The Undesired by popular Icelandic author Yrsa Sigurdardóttir. After doing the rounds of international festivals like Goteburg and Glasgow and proving to be a huge success at the Iceland box office, it was recently screened at the Red Lorry Film Festival in Mumbai as part of the special focus on Scandinavian cinema.  

Cold’s essential mystery emanates from the filmmaker’s use of the element of point of view. In other words, the unreliable vantage point from which Thoroddsen first shows a crime to the viewers and then shocks and surprises them by revealing the truth when witnessed from the real, correct and reliable perspective.

In the middle of all the complex twists and turns of the plot is Detective Odinn Hafsteinsson (Johannes Haukur Johannesson), a common link between the past and the present with which the narrative keeps shifting.

On the one hand, there is the present-day scenario with Odinn’s ex-wife Lara (Alfrun Ornolfsdottir) having died by suicide and teenage daughter Run (Olof Halla Johannesdottir) going through the extreme trauma of the loss of her mother. She had been the witness to the dramatic suicide and as a suddenly single parent, he is unable to help her deal with it. Bullied by girls in the new school, chased by a dark shadow threatening to devour her, she is living through a nightmare of life with the only support and understanding coming from her grandmother (Kristbjorg Kjeld). It’s her drawings, especially of the day her mother leapt to her death from the balcony, that help release some amount of pain and help give expression to her anxieties.

On the other hand, there is a look back to 1984, to the strange death of two boys detained and abused in a juvenile centre in Krokur for a petty crime. Odinn gets to investigate it decades later and finds many pieces missing from the puzzle. Most so the maid Aldis (Elin Hall) who disappeared on the night of the murder and was never questioned.

“Some things can follow you from the past”, goes a line in the film. Though he decides not to bring the case home, and not to let the professional impinge on his personal life, Odinn also realises that the sinister secrets dug out by him could also have a bearing on his wife’s death and his daughter’s distress. It’s about a crime in perpetuity that can haunt sensitive souls across generations.

Thorodssen’s film traverses smoothly between the two time zones and knits the two plots into a satisfying whole. It has a strong ensemble of actors, with just the right touch of the inscrutable about them, to make the proceedings enigmatic. With the able support of Brecht Goyvaerts’ atmospheric cinematography, he takes the essential police procedural on an eerie, phantasmal, supernatural detour. There’s something dark that hangs in the air and a cloudiness envelops both Aldis and Run as they see and hear things that others don’t. It’s all about the monsters of their individual minds.

Though not quite a classic, Cold is nonetheless a riveting crime-cum-horror drama that aims to be even more. Rather than just staying focused on the bloody killings, spooky apparitions and jump scares, it tries to be a sensitive, emotional exploration of mortality, loss, grief, pain, trauma and anxiety, passed on from generation to generation and a desperate search for an elusive closure.

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