BAPFF: Black Coal, Thin Ice (2014)

Black Coal, Thin IceIt’s hard to write about this Chinese-produced, Golden-Bear-winning film festival staple without talking about noir. The monochromatic English title hints at the film’s debt to the genre: a series of gruesome, unsolved murders; an alcoholic, disgraced detective; an enigmatic, beautiful femme fatale; an overarching sense of uncertainty. But the Chinese title – Bai Ri Yan Huo, or “Daylight Fireworks” – suggests that director Diao Yinan is not merely interested in recreating noir tropes in a Chinese setting, a conclusion confirmed by the film’s captivating and confusing conclusion (recalling Beau Travail).

Noir protagonists tend to equal parts headstrong and oblivious, strongarming their way into mysteries they don’t fully understand until the film reaches its climax. This is true of Black Coal, Thin Ice’s Zhang Zili (Liao Fan) ex-cop, true, but we’re left equally in the dark as the film navigates its story with a stop-start pacing, interrupting languorous moments with unexpected violence, truncating action scenes and consistently obscuring narrative detail.

The film’s chief appeal is aesthetic. Yinan demonstrates a knack for striking compositions somewhere on the stylistic continuum between the deep shadows of noir and the grubby authenticity of modern realism, as though we’re looking onto a nocturnal cityscape through a smeared, icy window.

3 starsBlack Coal, Thin Ice is screening at BAPFF on Thursday, 4 December and Sunday, 7 December.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s