Dir.: Clara Stern; Cast: Alina Schaller, Judith Altenberger, Tobias Resch, Wolfgang Böck, Pia Herzegger; Austria 2022, 102 min.
This tour-de-force of family dysfunction and first love on the ice rink is the latest in a recent crop of films about ‘women in sport’ but lacks the slick delivery and emotional punch of Charlene Favier’s skiing thriller Slalom or even The Novice which looked at the loneliness of competitive rowing.
Austrian writer director Clara Stern certainly makes a promising start but a lack of structure makes it difficult to keep up with the main character’s changing moods, the high octane world of Women’s Ice Hockey giving the whole undertaking a sensationalist quality and contributing to the overall unevenness.
Playing ice hockey as captain of the Dragon’s team is how Mira (Schaller) handles the stress of running the family vineyard with her mother (Herzegger), after the tragedy of her grandmother’s death with her brother Paul (Resch) at the wheel. Meanwhile her grandfather (Böck) is sliding into dementia and Paul has left home in disgrace.
Paul’s sudden reappearance during a critical match involving the “Dragon’s sends Mira into overdrive. He starts playing the fool forcing her to leave the rink at a critical moment and she ends up being stripped on her captaincy after a severe reprimand from the team’s coach. Mira is told to pull herself together, to forget her family troubles and give all for the team in the forthcoming national final between the ‘Dragons’ and the ‘Lakers’.
A challenge from another player Theresa (Altenberger), is the spark that ignites an unexpected attraction from her team player Theresa who is driven by the desire to succeed professionally and wants to be selected for a try-out with the National Women’s Hockey League of the USA. Tensions rise between the women before the start of a game, Mira and Theresa creating mayhem in the dressing room.
BREAKING THE ICE is not as progressive as it thinks it is, despite a lesbian twist. Aesthetically very conventional – the sporting sequences following the same pattern as male features of the sub-genre – and are overloaded with conflict. Stereotyping the main female protagonists does not help either, and the simplistic solutions offered are too close to the usual mainstream features to be convincing. We are not particularly drawn to any of the characters and Schaller fails to bring out the humanity in Mira despite the conflict she faces. Stern is simply is not up to the task of marshalling the strings of the narrative together to a satisfying conclusion.AS
TRIBECA FILM FESTIVAL 2022