The Icicle Thief

  • 1989
  • Movie
  • NR
  • Comedy

A remarkable feat of engineering. Once you accept that you are being manipulated, you'll find that on every narrative level--and there are four disparate components to this original, trenchant comedy--both your social sensibilities and sense of reality will be delightfully engaged. Simultaneously shot in black-and-white and color, this tour de force is...read more

Where to Watch

Available to Stream

  • Watch on
Rating:

A remarkable feat of engineering. Once you accept that you are being manipulated, you'll find that on every narrative level--and there are four disparate components to this original, trenchant comedy--both your social sensibilities and sense of reality will be delightfully engaged.

Simultaneously shot in black-and-white and color, this tour de force is an ingenious commentary on modern times. That writer-director Nichetti brings off the convoluted structure of this film is amazing.

On the film's first level, filmed in color, Nichetti plays himself. His latest movie (titled "The Icicle Thief") is being shown as a last minute substitution on a highbrow Italian TV program on cinema. In the Chaplin-Keaton tradition, the waif-like, klutzy Nichetti is continually put upon by the

show's arrogant, unprepared host (Fava).

On the film's second level, a barely recognizable Nichetti plays the lead in that tragic, black-and-white film, the poor, unemployed Antonio Piermattei. To make ends meet, Antonio's wife, Maria (Labini), sings in a trio, his young son, Bruno (Rizzo), does odd jobs for the church; and his infant,

Paolo (Auguardi), creates a continual comic hazard to life and limb. When Antonio gets a job at a chandelier factory, the reference to De Sica's classic THE BICYCLE THIEF becomes clear: Maria has always wanted one of the icicle-like fixtures for her home.

The film's third level is the reality of a bourgeois household moored in front of their TV, passively watching both the movie and the recurrent commercials. Only the pregnant mother pays attention to Nichetti's film: the father just ogles the buxom bathing beauties in the commercials, and their

son keeps switching channels with the remote control. The commercials, meanwhile, represent the film's fourth narrative level.

During the program, there's a momentary power failure at the TV studio. When the current is restored and the film resumes, fiction and reality merge, as if by magic. The neorealistic movie switches from a black-and-white tragedy to a screwball fantasy in living color. When Antonion hears a cry for

help by a lake, he stops to save the victim, the gorgeous swimsuit-clad American model Heidi (Komarek), whom we've been seeing in the TV commercials. Antonio and the surroundings are still in black-and-white but Heidi's in color--in the same frame! When Antonio drags Heidi out of the water and

dries her off, he also wipes off her color in the process (an effect that's fascinating to watch) whereupon Heidi becomes an integral part of the black-and-white drama. Now the farce really begins.

If this all seems crazy, it is. For 90 minutes, the film quickly shifts from one level to another, its deeper implications coming to mind only later. THE ICICLE THIEF says as much about the passivity of people who watch TV at home as it does about the indiscriminate, often odious, incursion of

commercials. Here, clearly, the medium is the message. Nichetti suggests that TV is nothing more than a distraction in most homes, with viewers unable to differentiate among the images or to "remember if a face is from a film, a commercial, or the news."

While this tightly edited film might seem anarchic, Nichetti has painstakingly constructed its every move. No computers were used for his special effects; everything was done on film. (The 20-second bit where Nichetti dries the color off the model took three months to do.) Even the near-perfect

simulation of the look of a 1940s movie was the result of processing the film to make it appear older, then re-filming it a second time in black and white to give it the necessary texture. Called the Italian Woody Allen, Nichetti has been dubbed, along with Carlo Verdone and Nanni Moretti, one of

the "New Comics," the first major movement in Italian filmmaking since the neorealists.

Cast & Details See all »

  • Released: 1989
  • Rating: NR
  • Review: A remarkable feat of engineering. Once you accept that you are being manipulated, you'll find that on every narrative level--and there are four disparate components to this original, trenchant comedy--both your social sensibilities and sense of reality wil… (more)

Show More »

Trending TonightSee all »