Considering “L’Iceberg,” a cute-as-a-button-and-about-as-sharp-as-same feature debut comedy from Belgium by writing/directing/acting team Dominique Abel, Fiona Gordon, and Bruno Romney, it seems the deadpan ethos of Wes Anderson has found a home in mainland Europe. In a way, this style has come full circle – one of his guardian angels, Jacques Tati, harkened from France, and it makes conceptual sense that the playful wonders of controlled composition and quirky production design should return to their Gaul origins. But something has gone wrong here. Despite a desire to provide the most whimsical of entertainments, “L’Iceberg” feels contrived and bottom-heavy, the product of dull imagination rather than disarming fancy.
Combining the color-coordinated, kitschy, and highly controlled decors and costumes of Anderson’s deadpan fairy tales with Tati’s static camera, laconic, multiplane slapstick, “L’Iceberg”‘s stilted visual humor actually tends more toward classic Looney Tunes gags than the wit of M. Hulot: a running group of people swallowing up a bystander, a darkened interior illuminated by a gradual increase of Cheshire cat grins, a weapon rendered useless because it’s chained just short of its target. Needless to say, Bugs and company do it better – at the very least they possess more energy than the stiffs who populate “L’Iceberg.” Gordon plays Fiona, a manager of a fast-food joint who one night gets locked in the freezer. Her husband, Julien (Abel), is a long-jawed doofus who doesn’t notice her absence from the conjugal bed, prompting the now ice-obsessed Fiona to run away and find her place at a seaport where she meets a sailor named Rene (Philippe Martz). And so Rene and Fiona go boating, even as Julien follows and tries to win Fiona back.
Comparisons to “The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou” at this point are unavoidable. In both films there’s so little sense of real adventure, danger, death, and love on the high seas because instead of being given people to watch we’re given caricatures, and precious ones at that. “L’Iceberg” exists more for the sake of presumably clever set-ups and framings, which is fine – Tati staked a career on this style (while Anderson tries to avoid the one-dimensionality of his insular creations even as he fails time and again). Unfortunately “L’Iceberg” is just not funny enough to pull it off. A grand total of one joke succeeds – when Fiona, after being rescued from the freezer, suffers insomnia and cavorts under her blanket in a violent seizure of bizarre poses – whereas the rest of the film is pure tedium, interminable vacuums of unsurprising payoffs you can see coming from a mile away punctuated by adorable gestures, vacant stares at the camera, and an annoying tendency of relying on variations of the same airless bit where one character remains oblivious to the chaos another character is creating just out of his/her line of vision. I wish I could say that describing such purely visual and physical humor saps it of its life, but to begin with “L’Iceberg” is just as cold and lifeless as its title’s metaphoric mass of frozen water.