My Life on Ice

"Very Good"

My Life on Ice Review


It's Etienne's (Jimmy Tavares) 16th birthday, and his doting, widowed mother (Ariane Ascaride) has given him the gift he most wanted: a camcorder. So begins My Life on Ice, an unusual coming-of-age story set in the provincial city of Rouen, France that includes several French twists along the way.

All we see of Etienne's world is what he shows us through his cinema verite viewfinder. In fact, we see little of Etienne himself until he gets his hands on a tripod and discovers the remote control gadget in the bottom of the camcorder box. He takes the camera everywhere he goes and uses it constantly, taping his town, his horny schoolmates, and his training sessions at the ice rink, where he practices hard to maintain his national ranking in figure skating. He even tapes his mother every time she emerges from the bathroom so he can chronicle all of her frilly lingerie. (This being France, she has a lot of it.)

But Etienne has a problem: He's increasingly sure that he's gay (a fact he records in one of his diary-like taping sessions), but he chooses not to confide in anyone. Instead, hormonal teen that he is, he develops a series of ill-advised crushes. Camera in hand, he relentlessly questions his suave and dashing best friend Ludovic (Lucas Bonnifait) about his burgeoning sex life. The vain Ludo, who should be able to figure out what's really on Etienne's mind, loves the attention and prattles on about his conquests, never realizing that Etienne likes to get up close with the camera and lovingly zoom in on his elegant profile.

More dangerous is Etienne's infatuation with his geography teacher, Laurent (Jonathan Zaccai). The pressure mounts when Laurent becomes Etienne's mother's boyfriend, and the threesome head off for weekends at the beach. Laurent notices that Etienne is fond of making long pans across his body with the camcorder; he knows that something is up. But like Ludo, he's most interested in humoring Etienne, even after Mom finally puts her foot down and demands that Etienne turn off that damned camcorder every once in a while.

Of course, Etienne can't. He's hiding, and the only place he feels comfortable is behind the viewfinder. By becoming the cinematographer of his own life story, he tries to detach from his life and feelings and turn himself into a dispassionate narrator of his own story. Even though he realizes that someday the batteries will expire or he'll run out of tape, he chooses not to worry about that in the present.

In an American version of this film, there would likely be a horrifying gay-bashing or a stunning confession at the Christmas dinner table, buy My Life on Ice directors and writers Olivier Ducastel and Jaques Martineau are more subtle, sacrificing obvious plot points for a kind of ambivalence and subtlety that feels very natural. They're helped greatly by Tavares, who was hired not for his acting (he was a first-timer) but for his skating. He gives a loose-limbed and utterly winning performance, and as it turns out, he's a pretty good videographer, too. Luckily, Etienne is granted a happy ending of sorts, but it's clear that at age 16, his journey is just beginning.

Aka Ma Vraie Vie à Rouen.



Facts and Figures

Run time: 102 mins

In Theaters: Wednesday 26th February 2003

Reviews

Contactmusic.com: 3.5 / 5

IMDB: 6.6 / 10

Cast & Crew

Producer:

Starring: as Étienne, as Caroline, as Laurent, Hélène Surgère as La grand-mère, as Ludovic, Frédéric Gorny as L'homme de la falaise, Nicolas Pontois as Le copain patineur, Frédéric Sendon as Le client de la librairie

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