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FANTASIA 2017: Capone examines the sociopolitical complexities of the murder drama COLD HELL!!!

Hey everyone. Capone in Montreal here, still covering a few days in the life of this year’s Fantasia International Film Festival. Today I'm going to focus on a powerful film that combines elements of sociopolitical issues facing Europe, serial killers, and Thai kick boxing. How can you go wrong? Enjoy…

Although the original German title DIE HÖLLE (THE HELL) is a more appropriate title, the latest work from the fascinating German director Stefan Ruzowitzky is no less exhilarating a work under the name COLD HELL. My first exposure to Ruzowitzky’s work came with 2000’s ANATOMY, starring Franka Potente (in one of her first films after breaking through with RUN LOLA RUN), followed quickly by ANATOMY 2. But it was his unexpected 2007 film THE COUNTERFEITERS that earned him a great deal of critical acclaim but also a Best Foreign Language Film Oscar. His previous film (and his first English-language work) DEADFALL, with an impressive cast that included Eric Bana, Olivia Wilde, and Charlie Hunnam, didn’t make much of a splash stateside.

In his first feature since then, COLD HELL brings Ruzowitzky back to his genre roots, but also carries with it the current state of Europe in the face of a wave of immigration that many native Europeans are not happy. Although the subject is not explicitly mentioned in the film, it permeates every frame of it, both contradicting and confirming the fears of both immigrants and certain factions in Europe. Relative newcomer and Uzbekistan-born Violetta Schurawlow positively rattles the screen as Ozge, an antisocial taxi driver in Vienna, born in Turkey, estranged from her more traditional Muslim family, and an excellent Thai boxing student, who can easily kick the asses of her male counterparts in the ring.

Ozge returns home after a long day, looks out her window and sees the mutilated dead body of a prostitute in the apartment opposite hers. Without realizing it at first, the killer is still in the apartment, and while she never sees the face of the well-dressed man, he sees her quite clearly. She reports the crime and the responding police (led by Detective Steiner, played by THERAPY FOR A VAMPIRE’s Tobias Moretti) don’t seem to give a shit about her well being, but do let on that the crime was actually the work of a serial killer who has murdered other prostitutes in other Muslim countries in areas throughout the Middle East in an identical fashion, which includes a ritualistic skinning and pouring hot oil into their throats.

Fearful for her life, Ozge runs around the city looking for a place to stay for a while with people she knows, even if she doesn’t like them much, and it’s during this portion of the film that we begin to learn a bit about her background and upbringing. We meet her family, which includes a stroke-ridden father who she can barely look at; her ex-boyfriend who happens to own the gym where she spars; and the boyfriend of her party-girl best friend, who just happens to be crashing at Ozge’s place with her infant daughter, unbeknownst to Ozge. You can probably guess what happens next. If you can’t, it involves a case of mistaken identity and another ritualistic murder.

Written by Martin Ambrosch, COLD HELL is a perfect blend of b-movie elements is a top-notch thriller. We’re never really worried about Ozge’s safety because we’ve seen her pummel more threatening men in the ring. I don’t want to reveal too much about the killer or his motivations (other than he doesn’t seem to like prostitutes or witnesses), but there is an element to his process that adds a fascinating wrinkle to his crimes that line up perfectly with the European issue of a new level of immigration.

Ozge’s relationship with her family makes it clear that ideology and beliefs don’t necessary define whether a person is good or bad. But it’s also clear that she has a chip on her shoulder that is approximate shape and size of her father, and that her passion about Thai kick boxing is fueled by her desire to make sure no one touches her without permission. Even when she shows a romantic interest in another character, she makes the first move. The truth is, it’s impossible to take your eyes off of Schurawlow when she’s on screen, which is most of the time, and it’s not because she’s attractive (which she is); it’s because you’re afraid of her. There’s a barely contained anger in her eyes that makes her absolutely captivating.

I suspect we’ll be seeing more feature films out of Europe in the coming years (a few are actually playing at this festival) that directly and indirectly deal with the influx of immigrants into the regions (there have already been several documentaries), and I’m genuinely curious if any of them are as compelling and aggressively straightforward as COLD HELL, which somehow manages to take on the issue with no buffers while also not addressing it with words.

-- Steve Prokopy
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