Writer-director Aku Louhimies’ melodrama “Valkoinen kaupunki” [Eng. Title: Frozen City] looks at the break-up of a marriage and its aftermath from a viewpoint rarely given airtime, either in law or practice – the husband’s. The film – a depressingly less-than neutral version of a Kramer vs. Kramer, goes to great lengths to focus on the male partner’s tribulations following a separation.
Velu’s (Janne Virtanen) profile would probably tick all the right boxes for a woman looking for an ideal husband – he’s hard-working, dutiful, level-headed, and adores children, apart from being a handsome hunk with a libido to match. And what does his wife Hannah (Susanna Mikkonen) do! She disappears for months, presumably ‘discovering’ herself somewhere in France, and turns up at Helsinki airport one day, not quite expecting to see the family she’d ignored welcome her with placards.
It doesn’t take long for Velu to gather that their marriage is finished – that he needs to move out, but that will only be the beginning of his miseries. Velu, a taxi driver, could barely make ends meet even during the best of times. He’ll move into a cold, dingy apartment in an unpleasant corner of the city, for that’s all he could afford after his other commitments. However, his biggest challenge would be to counter the extraordinary measures that Hannah will undertake to deny him equal parenting rights.
Whilst slugging it out with social care authorities and preparing for court battles, Velu, juggling three shifts, will be forced to contend with a decidedly mean-spirited Hannah in order to gain access to his children, who’re only too glad to see him when they get a chance. For related reasons, he’s also under pressure to keep his job, and a belligerent neighbour’s frequent taunting only adds to his existing woes.
Things come to a head one day, and a drunk Velu ends up in prison for grievous assault, throwing a spanner into whatever chances he had of sharing custody of the children. Hannah will visit him occasionally, pretending that she cared for him, but in effect only prolonging his pain. During one such visit, she tells him that she’s moving to France with the children, and won’t be visiting him any more…
The film has a lot going for it – the performances are convincing and truly heartfelt, and the cinematography, dialogues, and sound engineering imbue a gritty realism to the drama. But I have a problem with the characterisation, because things are never as black and white in the real world. It is henceforth hard to reconcile with a character as cold and unsympathetic as Hannah’s – surely no normal mother of three would be as heartless without apparent reason. But to its credit, the film opens up debate and raises some important issues concerning a father’s station and parental rights in society – too many of whom have been forced to surrender without a fight due to prevailing dominant wisdom. At least for this reason, it is Recommended Viewing..!
The Nudity: Janne Virtanen and Susanna Mikkonen
Two scenes feature nudity – the first is in the sauna when Velu and Hannah come to terms with their separation and try to establish ground rules for having access to children – despite arguing, they end up having sex. The second is in prison when Velu is shown changing into civilian clothes, in preparation for a ‘conjugal’ visit.