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‘The Icicle Thief’ (NR)

By Desson Howe
Washington Post Staff Writer
September 07, 1990

The TV thing, right? It slices our sense of reality into 15-minute chunks. Its commercials ruin the dramatic integrity of the programs they interrupt. It turns us into dumb couch potatoes. It gives us limited attention spans. I said it gives us limited attention spans.

These and other TV-loathing observations, as most of us have asserted in everything from organized junior-high class discussions to alcohol-induced dorm-room rantings, are inarguably true. But in "The Icicle Thief," a satirical fantasy about the way television butchers the movies it puts on, Italian film director Maurizio Nichetti "discovers" these insights as though for the first time.

In the movie, a director played by Nichetti -- whose name in the movie is also Maurizio Nichetti -- is invited on a local network to introduce and discuss his newest release, called "The Icicle Thief." When the director (apparently unacquainted with the ways of TV) realizes his work is to be punctuated with advertisments, he becomes enraged. Things get worse when, after a sudden electric power spasm, characters from the movie show up suddenly in the ads, and vice versa; content and commercials become one.

The parts of "Icicle" (the whole movie, that is) that bash the boob tube comprise the film's least enlightening elements; they're facile, almost sophomoric. Also, when Nichetti, a duckfooted, bushy-headed man with an Einstein mustache, trains the camera on himself and his derivative brand of sight gags, the results are only moderately amusing. Apparently he's a screaming success in Italy.

But the parts which reveal, without self-conscious underlinings, the trashy TV culture in which we live, as well as the TV commercial switcheroos, are where it's worth watching. While the black-and-white film within the film (a meticulous lampoon of Vittorio De Sica's 1948 "The Bicycle Thief") is aired, we cut to an Italian family watching TV. The father has his head buried in the paper, the pregnant mother has her eyes on the screen but her mouth on the phone, the children play nonchalantly with Lego parts. Artists of the world, the movie is telling us, meet the audience. Audience, artists of the world.

After the aforementioned power zapper, the crisscrossing begins when an English-speaking model from a color commercial dives into a swimming pool only to surface near the banks of a river in the black-and-white "Icicle" movie. When Nichetti (playing a glass-factory worker) saves her from drowning, he finds himself in trouble with his jealous wife. The complications proliferate: The black-and-white-movie wife tries drowning herself, only to show up in a detergent ad. The director himself decides to dive into the electronic melee to straighten things out . . . .

That's when things become a little too convoluted and "Icicle" joins that crowded group of Italian movies with an apparent inability to understand the concept of excess. But, as with many such films, the inner spirit frequently carries you over, and although Nichetti tells us practically nothing new about the global village, he certainly has fun with the possibilities.

THE ICICLE THIEF (Unrated) -- In Italian with subtitles.

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