Issue 61 (2018)

Oleg Trofim: Ice (Led, 2018)

reviewed by Olga Mesropova © 2018

Ice is the debut feature film by the young director Oleg Trofim (b. 1989), whose previous work has included television advertisements and music videos (for example, Trofim has directed several music clips for one of Russia’s star rappers, Timati). Although Trofim was in the director’s chair for his first big screen feature, the film’s producer, Feodor Bondarchuk, describes Ice as a “producers’ project.” According to Bondarchuk, while the director has infused Ice with his signature “language and intonations,” the hands-on “authors-producers,” especially Mikhail Vrubel’ and Aleksandr Andriushchenko, had the final say in the selection of actors, scenes and locations (Tyrkin 2018). Clearly driven by commercial considerations rather than auteur subtexts, Ice is an uplifting, formulaic melodrama / romantic comedy cum sports movie, complete with nearly every possible genre-driven commonplace.

iceIce joins a number of recently released Russian sports “flicks” that have constituted one of the most commercially successful genres in recent Russia cinema. In fact, some Russian cultural commentators have suggested that sports movies might encapsulate the “national idea,” which Russian cinema has been searching to shape since the 1990s (Ivankina 2018). Similar to recent blockbusters, such as Nikolai Lebedev’s Legend No.17 (Legenda No. 17, 2013) and Anton Megerdichev Going Vertical (Dvizhenie vverkh, 2017), Ice tells the story of an “against-all-odds” athletic achievement. However, Trofim’s film differs from its predecessors on a number of important levels. First, Ice does not seem to share the “patriotic” undertones that characterize Lebedev’s or Megerdichev’s films. Unlike the cinematic hockey or basketball players who represent Soviet triumphs over their Western opponents, Ice focuses on its protagonist’s personal victories rather than an appeal to national pride, offering a positive message of overcoming one’s fears and gaining self-respect and confidence. Secondly, while the aforementioned Russian sports blockbusters mythologize or reinterpret real-life episodes from Soviet era sports history, the action of Trofim’s film is set in 21st century Russia, during a fictional figure skating championship. According to Trofim, in the original script the story was not, in fact, going to take place at a fictional competition, but rather at the Olympic Games. However, most focus groups who previewed this version appeared to have a negative reaction to a recognizable and, moreover, current event in which a Russian athlete is portrayed as less than victorious—hence the introduction of the fictional and therefore less consequential “Ice Cup” [Kubok l’da]. Instead of drawing on Soviet sports history for its structure, Ice borrows many tropes, as well as sleek visual and narrative techniques, from Hollywood ice-skating melodramas, most notably Paul Michael Glaser’s 1992 The Cutting Edge and its sequels. Another important referential paradigm for Trofim’s film is Valerii Todorovskii’s musical Hipsters (Stiliagi, 2008): like Hipsters, Ice ties its narrative together through the use of skillfully choreographed covers of now classic Russian music hits. (It is worth noting that both Ice and Hipsters share the same choreographer, Oleg Glushkov).

iceIce opens with a flash-forward prologue, in which Russian pair skaters, Nadezhda Lapshina (played by Aglaia Tarasova) and Vladimir Leonov (played by Miloš Biković) take the ice at the 2016 “Ice Cup” championship in Sochi. The voiceover narration, uttered by Dmitrii Guberniev, a television personality best known to most Russian sports fans as a biathlon commentator, informs us that Nadezhda is back after a hiatus in her competitive career due to a serious injury. As evidence of the comeback skater’s indomitable will, the pair starts by triumphantly executing a number of elements to the roar of an approving crowd. However, as their program progresses, Nadezhda fails to land a throw jump and falls flat on her face followed by Guberniev’s dramatic voiceover: “Nadezhda has endured so much for this day! It can’t be that this is the end to her long road to fame…”

The “long road to fame”—a conventional sports movie mould—frames most of the film’s narrative. After the prologue which ends with a lingering close-up on Nadezhda’s distraught face as she lies motionless on the ice, the viewer is taken back to Irkutsk and the year 2003. Here, we see the seven-year-old Nadia (played by Diana Enakaeva) dreaming of becoming a figure skater. The little girl’s wish-fulfillment fairy-tale forms one of the film’s central narratives, as she overcomes many challenges and obstacles to achieve success as a future star on ice. The coach at the local skating club (Mariia Aronova) initially refuses to train the girl, citing the latter’s lack of coordination and fear of falling. Nadia’s mother (Kseniia Rappoport) then decides to introduce her daughter to the basics of skating with the help of a self-study figure skating manual, in hopes of preparing the girl for another tryout the following year. Encouraged by her mother’s loving hugs, combined with an invariable “You can do anything” [“U tebia vse poluchitsia”], and accompanied by the cover of Zemfira’s song “You Want to?” [Khochesh?], Nadia begins her lessons on the ice of lake Baikal. Alas, Nadia’s mother soon dies from a heart condition and the girl has to move in with her eccentric aunt (Kseniia Lavrova-Glinka) who brings to the table a banana kiosk along with a fatalistic belief in karma and feng shui. One day, while she is helping the aunt sell fruit at the kiosk, Nadia encounters the very skating coach who had recently rejected her and convinces the trainer to give her a second chance.

iceThanks to her own hard work and willpower, as well as the motivation of her tireless coach, Nadia becomes a winning skater at national events. (One of the film’s most memorable musical moments is the sequence depicting Nadia’s long hard road to becoming an elite athlete, as Nadia, her coach, and fellow-skaters perform a haunting remix of 5nizza’s song “I am a soldier” [Ia soldat]). The film fast-forwards a few years, as an older Nadia heads off to Moscow to become the partner (and soon the fiancée) of the star skater, Vladimir Leonov. The pair is selected to represent Russia at the aforementioned “Ice Cup” championship. However, before they make it to the figure skaters’ promised land, Leonov drops Nadia while attempting a throw jump at an ice show, resulting in Nadia’s catastrophic injury. Following the accident, Nadia is confined to the wheelchair and returns to her hometown of Irkutsk. In the interim, Leonov—playing the unfaithful lover and melodramatic villain—announces his plans to compete in the “Ice Cup” with another partner.

As the viewer already knows from the film’s prologue, Nadia will eventually make a complete recovery and reunite with Vladimir at the “Ice Cup.” The skater’s recuperation and return to the ice are owed almost entirely to the unorthodox therapy techniques of (and Nadia’s infatuation with) a hockey player named Sasha Gorin (Aleksandr Petrov). As befits a warm and fuzzy melodrama, Nadia and Sasha skate together on the frozen surface of Lake Baikal and work out in the gym to the beat of Bogdan Titomir’s 1990s rap song “Do it as I do” [Delai kak ia]. Hockey man Sasha even agrees to be Nadia’s partner at a regional figure skating competition. However, “real life” gets in the way: it is clear that to participate in serious national events, such as the “Ice Cup,” Nadia must reunite with her perfidious partner, Vladimir. Here, the film returns to the scene from the prologue in which Leonov allows Nadia to tumble to the ice during the execution of a throw jump. The viewer wonders if the Russian pair will continue to skate their program and win the event. Not if the competition’s official physician and Nadia’s partner have anything to say about it. The doctor suggests that, if Nadia returns to the ice, she might wind up back in a wheel chair, and her partner, fearing humiliating defeat, simply refuses to skate.

iceNevertheless, a determined Nadia steps back on the ice alone. Meanwhile, Sasha the hockey player (who just watched Nadia’s fall live on TV), miraculously makes it to Sochi from Irkutsk in a matter of minutes and joins Nadia on the ice. Unfortunately, the competition organizers won’t let Nadia skate with a new partner and certainly don’t see the point of playing the music for her routine. In the film’s uplifting finale, as Nadia and Sasha stand motionless on ice, Nadia’s aunt and her boyfriend (both of whom happen to be in the arena) defiantly begin to sing an a capella version of the song “Fly” [Letet’] from the late 1990s repertoire of the group Amega. Befitting the genre conventions of this formula movie, the entire arena quickly joins in the song as Nadia and Sasha skate together and perfectly execute that pesky throw jump. Adding another cliché to the narrative, as Nadia looks into the audience at the end of the performance she sees her deceased mom—flashing her familiar loving smile—singing along with the crowd.

Unlike another recent musical blockbuster, Damien Chazelle’s 2016 La La Land where the two protagonists part ways to pursue their own creative ambitions, Ice seems to suggest that Nadia and Sasha will have it all—the idealized love and romance, as well as shared professional success (perhaps as permanent partners on ice?). Despite (or maybe owing to) its simple story, predictable plot twists, and flat characters, Ice quickly became one of the top-grossing domestic Russian films of all time. Released in Russian cinemas on Valentine’s Day (14 February 2018), during the 23rd Winter Olympic Games in PyeongChang, Ice proved to be an immediate crowd pleaser and box-office record-breaker. In fact, Trofim’s film boasted the highest-grossing day-of-release among all Russian domestic feature films to date, garnering over 92 million rubles on the day of the premier, breaking the previous record of 89.2 million rubles set by Oleg Stepchenko’s Vii from 2014 (Anon. 2018).

Olga Mesropova
Iowa State University

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Works Cited

Anon. 2018. “Fil’m ‘Led’ postavil record po sboram pervogo dnia sredi rossiiskikh kartin.” Kommersant (15 Feb.).

Ivankina. Galina. 2018. “Ves’ mir i para kon’kov.” Zavtra (1 April).

Tyrkin, Stas. 2018. “Dlia ‘L’da’ nam byl nuzhen drugoi Sasha Petrov.” Inteview with Fedor Bondarchuk. Komsomol’skaia pravda (13 Feb.).

Ice, Russia 2018
Color, 113 min.
Director: Oleg Trofim
Script: Oleg Malovichko, Andrei Zolotarev
Cinematography: Mikhail Milashin
Music: Anton Beliaev
Cast: Aglaia Tarasova, Miloš Biković, Aleksandr Petrov, Mariia Aronova, Kseniia Rappoport, Kseniia Lavrova-Glinka
Producers: Fedor Bondarchuk, Mikhail Vrubel’, Aleksandr Andriushchenko, Dmitrii Rudovskii, Viacheslav Murugov
Production: Art Pictures Studio; Vodorod; Telekanal Rossiia-1; STS Media

Oleg Trofim: Ice (Led, 2018)

reviewed by Olga Mesropova © 2018

Updated: 2018