One of the best films of the year is also one of the quirkiest. This largely unheralded Belgium export is about a suburban mother and fast-food restaurant manager who accidentally locks herself in the walk-in freezer overnight.

What’s odd is none of her family is bothered enough to notice her absence. What’s odder is the experience sends Fiona (a stoic Fiona Gordon) spiraling into an obsessive study of all things chilly. She’s particularly consumed with icebergs, even carving one in her home freezer a la Richard Dreyfuss’ Devils Tower of mashed potatoes in Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

Fiona’s infatuation peaks when she decides to leave her hopeless husband (Dominique Abel), jump in a freezer truck (of course) and befriend a deaf sailor (Philippe Martz) to help her venture to an actual iceberg in some sort of ridiculously sublime mystic quest.

L’Iceberg is billed as a comedy, but it’s a muted humor—all surreal and slow and slapstick, like Jim Jarmusch directing a troupe of contemporary clowns.

Gordon, for instance, is unflinchingly frigid no matter what over-the-top elements are tossed in her way, and her steadfastness becomes increasingly charming as the film goes on; she also has almost no lines of dialogue in the entire film. In one of the more fantastical tangents—the film is filled with whimsical vignettes—she performs a breathtaking dance in her bed, limbs beautifully jutting under the tangle of a white sheet, before the image of an iceberg emerges. In other scenes that meld physical humor with artistic direction, the cast looks like its mimicking Pilobolus Dance Theatre, or caught in a low-rent version of Cirque du Soleil.

Not everything works, of course. The pacing can be a little too precious and a few of the sight gags fall flat, but L’Iceberg’s imaginative tone and distinct aesthetic are so clearly envisioned by co-directors and writers Abel, Gordon and Bruno Romy that the few shortfalls are easily overcome. Their filmmaking style invokes French comic Jacques Tati or silent films, maybe, but somehow Abel, Gordon and Romy have charted a path that feels as original as their main character’s
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