A story about an alcoholic writer (Jean Dujardin) who receives a visit from his cancer in the guise of a man (Albert Dupontel).

Cancer fantasy falls short in final moments.

FRENCH FILM FESTIVAL: A terrific conceit falls short of its potential in The Clink of Ice (Le Bruit des Glacons). The idea of literally confronting one’s own mortality has been visited often in films, but Bertrand Blier’s dark, bittersweet fantasy is no dour, Bergmanesque chess game; here, the cancer that is killing the protagonist has a joyous bon vivant attitude; the personification of his illness is as partial to the hedonistic indulgences of drinking and lusting as the man it has invaded.

The early morning schedule of sullen, sodden writer Charles (Jean Dujardin) consists mostly of a pre-breakfast white wine from his ever-present ice-bucket and moping by the pool. But his routine is disrupted by a visit from a smartly attired man (Albert Dupontel), who introduces himself with, 'Hello, I’m your cancer. I thought we should get acquainted." Charles initially resists his company, but cancer is notoriously persistent, and soon the two men are reminiscing about Charles’ fall from grace, from being a loving husband and father to a reclusive, bitter has-been with a withering talent and penchant for doomed trysts with hot, young groupies (the latest embodied by the lovely Christa Theret, making the most of her limited screen time).

These early scenes, in which Charles first defies but ultimately accepts this new constant companion in his life, easily provide the film’s best moments. Jean Dujardin dispenses the leading man looks and broad humour that has driven his career to date, infusing Charles with a hardened yet melancholy edge; he is compelling and charming in the role. Albert Dupontel is so beguiling as the philosophical voice of Charles’ conscience one tends to forgets his ultimate role as a sort of fatal 'Jiminy Cricket’ to Dujardin’s terminal 'Pinocchio’. The bickering and physicality of their intimate relationship is both delightful and disturbing.

Witness to Charles’ apparent descent into madness is his housekeeper Louisa (Anne Alvaro), a second-generation caretaker of the home in the Cévennes mountain region who has known very little life outside of the estate. She longs for Charles in restrained silence until one night when she sneaks into his bed after he has drunk himself into a deep sleep.

Though the fantastical notion of The Clink of Ice is a departure for the Frenchman, the film does reflect themes and structures evident in the revered works of a younger Blier: a fascination with men, their relationships with other men and the strong, sexual, emotional women whom they fail to understand. In his own intellectual way, Blier’s jaunty rhythms, tight scripting and willingness to subvert the artform (his characters turn to the audience at key points to bark observations or espouse wisdom) indicates the filmmaker is having a great deal more fun with this film than he has in a long while. Sadly, it is not sustained.

The emotional trajectory peaks near the end of the second act and the plight of the leads is wrapped up in a convoluted, unconvincing and unnecessarily unpleasant ending. Taken literally, it is dramatically unsatisfying; drenching it in metaphor, it is all too pat.

One warms to The Clink of Ice in its early stages, only to be left cold by its climax. That said, it is heartening that Blier at 72, an aging icon from French cinema’s glorious heyday, can still undertake such challenging material and deliver a whimsical, immensely watchable, if ultimately flawed, new film.

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1 hour 27 min

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