“What is your bloody wish!”
I am not familiar with Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen or his play “Little Eyolf”, on which writer/director Ferran Audí based his film The Frost. Doing some quick research shows that he was a man who wrote about morality and questions of love and loss, so I can assume Audí instilled his spirit since those aspects play a huge role in the film. Viewing it at the Buffalo Niagara Film Festival, the story actually reminded me a lot of William Shakespeare’s “MacBeth”, feelings of guilt and regret ruling the day and uncovering secrets that risk to upend the lives of everyone involved. It’s said later on how the frost kills the fruit but also preserves the seed, and the myth of a man frozen in ice on the mountain visited by Alfred (Trond Espen Seim) speaks to this fact. He is this man and has let the actions of his life destroy him and his family, but when he finally realizes the error of his way, willing to be a better man and father, the Gods show he is too late. He may have escaped death in the figurative ice, but he couldn’t hide from it forever.
Alfred’s sister Asta (Eva Eklöf Mørkeset) and wife Rita (Aitana Sánchez-Gijón) speak about a cough he has had for a long time that has supposedly disappeared since his return from the wintery slopes of nature. Reborn as a new man, deciding to stop his writing in order to help his crippled son live something resembling a normal life, Alfred is at once whole again. Rita and Asta are aghast at this newfound fervor for life emanating out of the once forlorn, closed-off creature, willing to accept the change and perhaps even move on with their own lives. Asta has always lived for young Eyolf, perhaps loving him more as a mother than an aunt, but with her brother taking a new interest, maybe she could leave and begin her own life. Rita’s brother Raúl (Tristán Ulloa) shows interest in Asta and the two have chemistry, but there is still something holding her back as she refuses his affections and is mixed in emotions at his decision to move away. Even so, though, everyone is in good spirits as Asta and Raúl frolic along the beach and Rita and Alfred try to connect in their home, a kiss bringing back the cough.
Eyolf has found happiness too, but his comes in escape from the rest. Constantly told what he can and can’t do, rather than play with the other children, he instead hops a ride with two vagrants, The Widow Rat (Bibi Andersson) and Mopsemand (Fermí Reixach). Insane and eccentric, the two call to mind Shakespeare’s witches, presiding over the action. With otherworldly attributes, he captures the rats in town with a keen sense of smell while she collects them in a sack to drown in the river, getting rid of their filth despite his obvious connection to them. His sense never fails and so their arrival inside the dining room of Alfred and Rita’s home seems oddly important—a telling descriptor of the people inside. Parasitic creatures and selfish for too long, it is the trio of Alfred, Rita, and Asta that Mopsemand has smelled; filth in the guise of success and the façade of satisfaction. But none of them are really satisfied; they haven’t been for a long time. Already having abandoned Eyolf once, resulting in his need for the crutch, they forget their son again while he wanders off towards the water with the rat-catchers.
It’s in Eyolf’s death that The Frost lets free its true nature. Blame is passed around as everyone copes. Rita and Raúl do what they can to remain strong and move on, but Alfred and Asta find nothing besides fear, guilt, and a want to run away. In one of the most beautifully shot scenes of the film, the siblings begin to climb through the branches of a series of trees in Alfred’s yard, the funeral party up at the house mourning. It is like old times, the two appearing more child-like than adult, moving to and fro within the tree limbs as the setting sun halos their silhouettes. But is it right to forget? Once Alfred discovers he has spent the past few minutes not thinking of his son, he flies into an angry rage—he doesn’t have the capacity or luxury to forget. Everyone then devolves into aggression—Asta retreating to her art and self-destruction through casual sex and cigarettes while Alfred and Rita confront each other with the pain and suffering at a boil, vile and vicious words thrown about until an extended fight finally breaks loose.
Strangely, however, while all this happens, The Rat Widow and Mopsemand also mourn the loss of their Little King. The film goes into an odd supernatural-like state of bright flashing light, characters disappearing in the matter of seconds, and the unexplained actions of Mopsemand following Rita while a manifestation of the man in ice haunts Alfred. It is here that the allegorical intrigue rears its head, making the audience question what’s real. Have these vagabond rat-catchers been more than just street people wandering? Has a neighbor, Astrid, and her helping refugee children been more than a minor detail, but actually a way to show Rita how unattached to her own son she was? Only when Eyolf is gone do his parents realize how little they cared, calling to question whether their neglect at the time of his accident was more than unintentional. He is the albatross bringing them down, adding strife to a suddenly incestuous clan that uses love for blackmail and guilt as life’s blood. I’m still trying to wrap my head around the ending, but even without full clarity, Audí has created a work worthy of discussion.
courtesy of The Frost official site